Rugby Union: Schuster's boot boosts Quins

Wasps 21 Harlequins 22
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The Independent Online
THEY WILL never believe it in the provincial heartlands, but blood and thunder rugby has finally arrived in London after approximately a century and a half. Those bemused by that little revelation will be knocked flat on their backsides by the news that Harlequins, of all people, have learned to relish the rough and tumble. Miracles will never cease.

Yesterday's Premiership derby at Loftus Road was the most compelling capital set-to since League rugby kicked off in England more than a decade ago. Wasps will point to the late withdrawal of Will Green, their influential prop, and the early departure of Alex King, their outside-half, but Quins brought such bottomless reserves of spirit to proceedings, as well as an unusual degree of precision, that they deserved their night on the Pimms.

Joining them on the razzle was Keith Wood, their magnificent Irish hooker who should have been on a flight to Cork for today's national squad session. Wood, however, is in contractual dispute with his union - the kerfuffle surrounds a marketing and advertising clause - and he has been advised that his presence will not be required unless and until he puts pen to paper.

"I'm not happy with this state of affairs; I want to play for Ireland but as things stand, I'm not involved," he said after the game. "I'm not trying to be greedy. I'd play for Ireland for nothing if they put a green jersey in my hands. But I don't believe I should be subject to an arrangement whereby I can be used in any way the union choose without my permission and without any remuneration."

There is no such discord at Quins these days. The New Zealand influence - Zinzan Brooke, John Gallagher, Bernie McCahill - is clearly beginning to impact on life at the Stoop; like any half-decent All Black side, they now pride themselves on making fewer unforced errors than the opposition. Add to that the magisterial kicking of another Kiwi, John Schuster, and you suddenly have a side worthy of the name.

Schuster was well nigh faultless yesterday and his left-footed drop goal five minutes from time - a clever feint right to wrong-foot Lawrence Dallaglio and the sweetest of connections with his wrong peg - proved the decisive strike. It put Quins 22-16 ahead and even though Nick Greenstock scrambled an injury-time try at the left corner flag, there was never any great likelihood of Jon Ufton adding the conversion with his first and only kick of the afternoon.

"John missed one from seven, so he won't be entirely happy," said Gallagher, who played with Schuster for New Zealand in the late 1980s and now pays his wages as the director of rugby. "He's one heck of a kicker, though. He wants to experience the World Cup with Western Samoa next year and the way he's performing right now, he'll make it to the tournament."

Like Wasps, the visitors lost an international stand-off to injury when Thierry Lacroix mistimed a tackle on Dallaglio and wobbled away to the dug-out. Schuster moved inside from his customary position at centre and brought the coolest of heads to bear on an increasingly frenzied contest.

It was fast from the outset, Schuster and Kenny Logan swapping early penalties before a 13th-minute try from David Officer, brilliantly constructed by Jamie Williams wide on the right. Wasps matched their rivals blow for blow, however, and when Laurence Scrase bullocked his way to the line following a typically muscular thrust from his fellow centre, Rob Henderson, the interval scores were locked at 16-all.

The second half, though, belonged to Schuster. Together with Brooke he marshalled the Harlequins fringe defence well enough to resist an increasingly rampant Dallaglio and his penalty, drop goal double was enough to sneak the spoils.

Wasps: Tries Scrase, Greenstock; Conversion Logan; Penalties Logan 3. Harlequins: Try Officer; Conversion Schuster; Penalties Schuster 4; Drop goal Schuster.

Wasps: J Lewsey; S Roiser, L Scrase, R Henderson, K Logan (N Greenstock 67); A King (J Ufton 33), M Friday (A Gomarsall 74); D Molloy, T Leota, I Dunston, M Weedon (capt), S Shaw, L Dallaglio, J Worsley, F Rossigneux (E Rollitt 53).

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, J Schuster, D Officer, D Luger; T Lacroix (P Mensah 44, J Keyter 75), N Walshe (C Wright 25); J Leonard, K Wood, A Yates (D Barnes 56), G Llewellyn, G Morgan, Z Brooke (capt), C Sheasby, R Jenkins (A Leach 54).

Referee: A Rowden (Berskshire).