Rugby Union: Oti thwarts sad Saracens

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The Independent Online
Saracens. .9

Wasps. . .13

SARACENS command the highest respect and admiration. Over the years their ranks have been plundered by ambitious, well-resourced clubs. Yet they have borne it all with stoicism, and have continued to contribute richly to the Courage Premier Division. Proud indeed is their claim to have supplied a quarter of the England pack for Saturday's international against France at Twickenham, Jason Leonard and Ben Clarke having begun their senior careers at Southgate.

It was therefore a cruel twist that another former member, Dean Ryan, should have led Wasps to a victory which could consign Saracens to the Second Division next season. But yesterday Wasps, for all their pressure, had to wait until 14 minutes from the end before Chris Oti's winning try, which confirmed their position at the top of the

table.

Saracens have long been accustomed to living on scraps, but even by their standards they were on emergency rations yesterday. Only twice in the first half did they break into their opponents' 22, and on both occasions Ben Rudling kicked penalties. Midway through the second half, he landed a third to put Saracens ahead.

Contrast this with the wretchedness of Alan Buzza, who missed five penalty kicks from seven attempts in the first half, each failure producing howls of derision from Saracens' support. Yet through it all Buzza, whose problems on the treacherous surface were not confined to goal-kicking, retained his dignity and good nature. This is more than can be said of others on the field. There were several discordant notes struck and it was not a day for subtle fripperies, just good old-fashioned pragmatism and a bit of clogging. Discontent simmered close to the surface and the looser passages of play occasionally erupted into open hostility.

Wasps, who are just one lock short of being a formidable pack, struggled and failed to keep their composure. They conceded a stream of penalties, costly in terms of territorial advantage, in the second half, and a total of 22 during the game. Nevertheless, Wasps produced the more attractive rugby, and three times in almost as many minutes in the first half had stirring bursts. First Adrian Thompson's pass to Oti went astray a yard from the Saracens' line. Then Oti produced a blistering break down the right before appearing seconds later on the left in support of Buzza, who was squeezed into touch inches short of the line. The driving force behind so many of Wasps' best attacks at this stage was Buster White.

But Wasps were unable to convert their pressure into points. Buzza's goal-kicking failures had made it glaringly obvious that, if Wasps were to score, it would have to be with tries and, against Saracens' belligerent defence, this was never going to be easy.

The winning try, when it came, was a beauty. Graham Childs must have been involved at least four times in the move which began with his perfectly weighted chip ahead and ended with Oti flying over in the left-hand corner. It was a worthy way to win a game, but, should it mean the end of Saracens' First Division status, it will have been a sad day for the club and for English rugby.

Saracens: A Tunningley; D O'Leary, J Buckton, D Dooley, S Reed; B Rudling, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, L Adamson, C Tarbuck, J Cassell, B Crawley.

Wasps: A Buzza; L Scrace, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; A Thompson, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (capt), F Emeruwa, M White, M Greenwood.

Referee: D Sainsbury (RFU).

Scorers: Buzza (pen, 6 min, 0-3); Rudling (pen, 14 min, 3-3); Rudling (pen, 35 min, 6-3); Buzza (pen, 40 min, 6-6); Rudling (pen, 59 min, 9-6); Oti/ Buzza (try/conv, 66 min, 9-13).

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