Rugby Union: Logan springs to the rescue

Wasps 15 Saracens 15
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The Independent Online
TRYLESS IN Shepherds Bush. London's finest resorted to some time- honoured methodology at Loftus Road last night by kicking, or at least attempting to kick, every penalty that came their way and while those traditionalists who abhor the new-fangled "run everything and damn the consequences" philosophy would have given both sides a standing ovation, it was neither pretty nor particularly interesting for most of the 9,000 spectators who shelled out their bucks at the turnstiles.

Alain Penaud, Saracens' French stand-off, might have broken the stalemate, but his 73rd-minute drop goal attempt went the same way as the rest of a deeply flawed contest.

Wasps had already decided on five changes in the wake of their grade A cock-up at West Hartlepool on Sunday, by far the most significant of which was the return of Darren Molloy, a one-man cavalry brigade, to the front row of their scrum.

They were forced into a sixth alteration when Josh Lewsey, their full- back, fell ill in the dressing-room shortly before kick-off; back came the portly Gareth Rees, who must have been a Molloy in a previous life, to fill the gap - something he achieved with plenty to spare.

At the start of the season, Rees was the undisputed goal-kicking king of Loftus Road. That was then, though. A serious hand injury gave Kenny Logan, that occasional marksman from the Scottish highlands, an opportunity to hone his skills in the Premiership pressure cooker, and he continued in the role last night by banging over three penalties inside the opening quarter of an hour.

Slowly, though, the Saracens tight forwards began to squeeze their opponents in all the most painful places; young David Flatman, a teenage loose-head prop learning to survive in a grown-up's world, gave Will Green plenty to ponder and there was the usual inexhaustible contribution from Paul Wallace on the other side of the scrum. As a result, Gavin Johnson was able to atone for an early miss by emulating Logan and squaring the match at 9-9.

Johnson, a paragon of imperturbability, was a hugely reassuring figure at full-back and although he narrowly failed to equalise Logan's fourth penalty with a long-range shot three minutes after the break, he was comfortably the most accomplished back on view.

Much of his work under the high ball on a wet, difficult night was exemplary and when Paul Volley's high tackle on Alain Penaud gave him a further chance to level things up on 54 minutes, he readjusted his radar and stroked over the three points.

Just as he did, magnificently, 11 minutes later. Richard Hill, who endured rather than enjoyed a running battle with Volley from first minute to last, finally escaped the Wasps open-side's attentions to charge down Alex King's tactical punt and when Lawrence Dallaglio fielded the rebound from a transparently offside position, Johnson made short work of a 48m tester.

It would not quite work out for him, however. For all their strength, the Saracens pack had worked themselves on the wrong side of the referee, Ashley Rowden, and he caught them once more eight minutes from time to give Logan a life-saver from in front of the posts.

Wasps: Penalties Logan 5. Saracens: Penalties Johnson 5.

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, L Scrase, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood (M Friday, 68); D Molloy (A Le Chevalier, 46), S Mitchell, W Green, M Weedon (capt), A Reed (S Shaw, 51), E Rollitt (J Worsley, 51), L Dallaglio, P Volley.

Saracens: G Johnson; B Daniel, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; A Penaud, M Olsen; D Flatman (A Olver, 70), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, T Coker, A Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).

Humphreys fit for Ulster, page 25