Rugby Union: No end in sight to Andrew's misery

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NO ONE cares to intrude on personal grief, of which there appeared to be plenty at Sudbury. Even the all-black strip of Wasps seemed appropriate for the occasion as Rob Andrew stepped out for his first league appearance of the winter. And what a bleak one it is turning out to be for the outside-half, whose misery appears to be boundless.

In truth, he was lost in France, his return from Toulouse marked by the ridiculous imposition of a 120-day Courage Clubs' Championship and Pilkington Cup ban that left him off the pace. Struggling to catch up, small wonder there were some worrying signs against London Irish that his confidence had been shot to pieces as the end to seven days of trauma approached.

It had been bad enough losing to Wales the previous weekend, and then in midweek Andrew learned that he had been dropped by England after winning 52 caps. On the bench for next month's match against Scotland sounds ominously like being beached because in all fairness, Stuart Barnes, who sat it out 23 times himself as a replacement, must be allowed at the very least a two- match run.

Come Saturday, and Andrew was wearing the look of a condemned man. With Steve Pilgrim's union career washed up by an enforced year off for bad behaviour thanks to news leaking out of his rugby league trial with Leeds, Andrew had been expected to kick the Wasps goals. Unfortunately, even this task proved beyond him.

In the opening half-hour, Andrew sent three penalty and two conversion attempts sliding past the posts and he was spared any further anguish when a desperate Dean Ryan called up Phil Hopley. It was only the wing's second league appearance of the season but, having already scored a try, he pegged back the Irish with a penalty for a 13-9 interval lead.

'Sometimes you have days when it doesn't go. It's been a difficult week,' Andrew sighed. One too many by the sound of it in times when the language of rugby is undergoing a change. Now all the talk - not at Sudbury, one hastens to mention - is of deadlines and transfers of the kind affecting Saracens, Wasps' north London rivals in the First Division though not for much longer judging by reports of an exodus.

And while Andrew says he wants to have a quiet chat with the England manager, Geoff Cooke - though 'certainly not a confrontation' - spare a thought for Adrian Thompson. Andrew's contribution in preserving Wasps' unbeaten league leadership amounted to laying on the scoring pass for Hopley's second try. Thompson, on the other hand, was dropped after helping to secure the previous seven victories and does not accept that Andrew should have walked back into the side.

He has a point and Wasps are now faced with a similar problem to England's. Do they drop Andrew for the cup quarter-final with West Hartlepool in 12 days' time or for next month's crucial league outing at Bath? Decisions, decisions.

'I'm really pleased to be back and available again,' Andrew said, 'and I hope I can help the club. They're obviously doing extremely well so I have got to fight for my place. I hope I can add something to the side, which I thought I did towards the end of the game.' This is true and, while it may be tough on Thompson, if Wasps are to get the best out of Andrew they have to pick him.

Wasps: Tries Bates, Hopley 2; Penalty Hopley. London Irish: Penalties Corcoran 3.

Wasps: A Buzza; P Hopley, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; R Andrew, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (capt, P Delaney, 38), F Emeruwa, M Greenwood, M White.

London Irish: R Hennessy; S Geoghegan, D Curtis, R Smith, M Corcoran; P Burke, R Saunders; N Donovan, M Patton, A Hayes, C Hall, M Keenan, P Collins, B Robinson, D Pegler (capt).

Referee: C Rees (London).