Rugby Union: Sampson's mastery worries Gatland

London Irish 7 Wasps 41
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THE London Irish faithful must have made more noise during vespers than they generated at Sunbury yesterday afternoon but then Conor O'Shea's subdued band of exiles barely raised a whimper themselves. The fire was missing, the fury was absent without leave and as a result, Wasps negotiated what should have been a seriously awkward Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter- final without a bead of sweat appearing on their collective brow.

It took Irish 40 minutes to break into the Wasps 22 and another 20 or so to make it all the way to the goal-line, by which time Lawrence Dallaglio and company had galloped so far out of sight that they were bordering on the invisible. Sadly, the Irish tackling was even more difficult to spot and their tentative performance in traditional areas of strength will have been of concern to Warren Gatland, the new national coach from All Black country.

Gatland takes Ireland to Paris this weekend for a Five Nations encounter that has such an air of the one-horse race about it that even the die- hards of Cork and Limerick are wondering whether it might be more fun to stay at home. Sadly, he saw nothing from the likes of David Humphreys, Malcolm O'Kelly and Kieron Dawson to persuade him that the super-confident French are riding for for a fall.

"They really didn't do themselves a great deal of justice," agreed Gatland. "Still, there are no great expectations weighing on the national side, so I have to take encouragement from the fact that I'm starting from a low base. The first thing is to gain some respect and bring some honesty into our performance."

If yesterday's events left Gatland feeling uncomfortable, they left Dick Best, the caretaker Irish coach, feeling a lot worse. "Rugby is a simple game: you win the ball, you keep hold of it and you use it," he pronounced. "We didn't do any of those things. We just didn't play."

Wasps were on the board inside 11 minutes, Kenny Logan maintaining his remarkable strike-rate by prowling his way from left wing to right to capitalise on Paul Sampson's sudden explosion into the threequarter line. Heavy forward pressure then presented Gareth Rees with three straightforward penalties before Will Green, back in England shape on the tight head, finished off another Sampson-inspired raid at the posts.

Sampson's extra pace caused Irish no end of grief and he took full advantage of some loose tactical kicking. In the young Yorkshireman, Wasps are tapping into a rich seam of naked, unbridled talent and if they continue to work out ways of putting him in space, they can expect a handsome return on their investment.

London Irish: Try O'Shea; Conversion Woods. Wasps: Tries Logan, Green, Roiser, Friday; Conversions Rees 3; Penalties Rees 5.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, B Venter, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys (S Burns, 52), P Richards; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin (I McLaughlin, 73), N Harvey, M O'Kelly (G Fulcher, 72), K O'Connell (C Bird, 63), I Feaunati, K Dawson.

Wasps: P Sampson; S Roiser, N Greenstock, L Scrase, K Logan; G Rees, A Gomarsall (M Friday, 75); D Molloy (A Black, 75), S Mitchell, W Green, S Shaw (A Reed, 63), M Weedon, L Dallaglio (capt), P Scrivener (J Worsley, 76), M White.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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