Rugby Union / Pilkington Cup: Stabler leaves the door wide open for Wasps

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West Hartlepool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

Wasps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

WHEN West Hartlepool reached the top flight it was not their intention to turn themselves into a non-profit-making organisation; but this is what they have become. After years of showing other clubs how to improve their off-field resources by managing a lucrative midweek lottery, West this season have failed dismally to capitalise on their strengths each Saturday.

At times, during a disheartening campaign, the Durham club have demonstrated all the semblance of a body seeking charitable status. They made gifts of the league points to Rugby, Saracens and Harlequins at Brierton Lane and were in a similarly

beneficent mood towards Wasps in this anxious Pilkington Cup quarter-final tie.

But for their generosity and woeful inability to gain a reasonable return from the chances they create, West's survival in League One would not be in doubt. It would also be they, not Wasps, who had earned a place in today's semi-final draw.

To their critics and admirers alike, it is a source of some astonishment that with a pack of forwards who genuflect to no one - and drew the last drop of resolve from the Wasps eight - they dissipate so much possession.

The truth is, West do not have a natural playmaker and, as their coach Dave Stubbs reflected, 'We were dreadfully exposed for lack of pace, and though our tackling performance was excellent, it is much easier to defend a lead than chase one'. Having led twice, Stubbs might have added that if John Stabler had kicked his goals it would have been Wasps doing the chasing. But that is the story of West's season.

Stabler kicked three penalties, but missed crucially with a 20-metre shot from in front of the posts, as well as two others. So instead of leading at half-time, West trailed by a point. With a biting wind at their backs, Wasps were in no mood to surrender their narrow advantage, which the efficient Rob Andrew helped extend by making room for Alan Buzza to squeeze in at the corner.

With Richard Kinsey likely to need surgery for repair to some knee damage, Wasps are as vulnerable at the line-out as they are unimaginative in midfield. Despite their unbeaten league record and coach Rob Smith's assertion that, 'We're the top team in England and there's no one we cannot beat', each of the other three clubs will hope to meet them in next month's semi-finals.

Even though they make better use of their assets than profitless West, the best of Wasps' season is probably behind them.

West Hartlepool: Penalties Stabler 3. Wasps: Tries Holmes, Buzza; Conversion Andrew; Drop goal Andrew.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; O Evans, C Lee, P Hodder, D Cooke; J Stabler (capt), J Wrigley; P Lancaster, S Mitchell, P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Blyth, A Brown, P Evans.

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), F Emeruwa, M White, M Greenwood.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).