Rugby Union: Stealthy Hunter claims easy prey

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The Independent Online
Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Wasps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57

ENGINEERING as much trouble for themselves as Harlequins managed in the second half of this thrashing took little ingenuity, just a lot of standing around like lollipop ladies waving the opposition through for nine tries. Engineering their way out of such a deep-rooted and basic defensive malaise will take not just 40 minutes nor, according to their captain, Brian Moore, even 40 weeks. He was handing out no chocolates in the dressing room afterwards.

A scoreline that looks unbelievable for any team with pretensions of all-round First Division 'professionalism' was softened by the recovery of two other sides, Bristol and Gloucester, both beaten the previous week and both racking up over 40 points in their second outing. None the less, as Quins turned round leading by 21 to 12 and then had 45 points put over them in the second half, the tragi-comedy element of the entertainment for a full house was enough to induce groans of disbelief even among the impartial, chortles of disbelief from the visiting North London supporters.

There were plenty of reasons for the Harlequin collapse, but no excuses. And, despite captain Dean Ryan being able to say afterwards that Wasps were now on a roll, their confidence sky high, he knew they had been beaten in that first half. Quins' lead was deserved.

The principal reason was doziness. Quins had started slower but were soon chopping everything down, including the first of two attempts to flatten Rob Andrew to the thickness of a Brittany pancake. At the line-out the might of Norm Hadley was negated, and in rucks and mauls that became ever fiercer the more the players struggled to understand the referee's interpretation of the amended laws, the better possession was won by Quins. A penalty count of 11-2 in their favour tells its own story.

After Will Carling went off 10 minutes into the second half with a hamstring strain - he expects to miss only one match - Quins fell apart, albeit not because of Carling's departure. The strength and speed of Wasps' Damian Hopley was given full rein in the centre, while Simon Hunter on the wing showed a deceptive ability to combine an Ali shuffle with acceleration and a seven-league stride. His partner Nick Greenstock twice scampered 50 yards for a pair of touchdowns, the tail of the line- out picked off a couple of takes and dives over the Quins' try line, and Andrew managed a monster drop goal from nearly 50 yards to take them through the half-century.

Afterwards Moore, not always the coolest of heads, said: 'Welcome to the Harlequins inquest'. He acknowledged that 'such an inept and woeful performance does not qualify a side to have any pretensions to challenge for the championship,' and that the selection meeting for next Saturday's trip to Bristol would be a long one.

Ryan, equally abrasive whether the occasion demands it or not, retained a note of caution despite his side's return of 102 points and 16 tries from their first two games. 'We are a little bit surprised ourselves,' he said. They were not going to commit suicide in the next big game by throwing it around when kicking was the winning tactic. 'We are not bothered how we win,' he confided.

Harlequins: Tries Moore, Challinor, Sheasby; Conversion Challinor; Penalties Challinor 3. Wasps: Tries Childs, Hunter 2, Hopley, Dallaglio, Wilkins, Ryan, Greenstock 2; Conversions Andrew 3; Drop goal Andrew; Penalty Andrew.

Harlequins: R Glenister; D O'Leary, W Carling (K Bray, 49), P Mensah, G Thompson; P Challinor, R Kitchin; J Leonard, B Moore (capt), A Mullins, A Snow, W Davison, T Coker, C Sheasby, M Pepper.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Hunter, G Childs, D Hopley, N Greenstock; R Andrew, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, N Hadley, L Dallaglio, D Ryan (capt), C Wilkins.

Referee: M Bayliss (Gloucester).