Rugby Union: Wasps doomed by sending-off

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The Independent Online
Bath. . .22

Wasps . .11

THEY were clinging from every available vantage point - rooftops, windows, elegant Georgian balconies and the more functional steps of the leisure centre.

The glorious weather helped, of course, for what was to be the highlight of the Courage League season - Wasps the unbeaten leaders against Bath the defending champions. The saddest reflection on this showpiece,however, was that the result was of almost secondary importance to the incessant brawling and niggles which tarnished some distinguished reputations and sullied the good name of rugby.

The referee David Matthews did himself no favours either and may have added to the players' frustration. But it was Matthews' patience which ran out first and after 14 minutes, in the wake of numerous skirmishes between opposing hookers, flankers, locks and anyone else who wanted to join in, he sent off Fran Clough, the Wasps centre.

In comparison to some of the other offences it was a relatively trivial incident. The red mist which overcame Clough was the result of a trampling by Jeremy Guscott after the tackle. Clough's reaction, immediate and furious, was directed against Guscott and, after consulting with his touch judge who had remained motionless throughout the incident, the referee dismissed him.

Not only has it probably ended Wasps' hopes of the League title, but the club will now have to make do without one of their most experienced backs for the forthcoming semi-final against Harlequins.

To make matters worse Wasps lost Buster White who had been pressed into service as a wing after Clough's departure. He hobbled off midway through the second half with a hamstring injury.

Thereafter the 8-point lead which the depleted Wasps had so ferociously defended up until half- time, was gradually whittled away although their defence, which had yielded only two tries in the League all season, held out against one of the most potent attacks in the country until the third minute of injury time when Guscott scored Bath's only try.

Bath were anything but impressive. Stuart Barnes was, in more ways than one, brought down to earth with a bang after last week's triumph at Twickenham. He was not helped by the frequent misjudgements of Richard Hill at scrum-half or by the fact that Matt Greenwood spent so much of the game so far offside that one wondered whether he had left his mouthguard in Barnes's pocket.

There were few cool heads in the heat of the day. Alan Buzza's was one. He retained his composure fielding all Bath's high kicks with aplomb and turning the opposition defence with some raking kicks up to their line. Opposite him Jon Webb was a bundle of nerves, incautious inside his own 22 and disturbingly fallible in his goal-kicking. From nine penalty attempts he succeeded with just four.

From the first whistle it was clear that maintenance of law and order was going to be the biggest problem. Graham Dawe and Kevin Dunn, the opposing hookers, were engaged in a set-to within seconds of the start and then Francis Emeruwa, normally the most placid of individuals, took great exception to Dawe's clawing fingers. But his indignant appeal to the referee fell on stony ground.

More petulance, more whistle and eventually a general warning. The next man caught, we knew, would be off and, unfortunately for Wasps, Clough was the one to fall into the trap. At this stage Wasps were leading by two penalty goals hit to perfection by Rob Andrew, the second from inside his own half after just seven minutes by which time Stuart Barnes had not even touched the ball.

As early as this, however, the game was doomed as a spectacle. Webb, after three misses, kicked his first penalty eight minutes before half-time and, with their scrummage in retreat, Wasps' cause appeared to be hopeless. But they had one last shot left in their locker when Phil Hopley was put clear after Andrew had run flat from a set scrum and Graham Childs had acted as the link man.

The second half was reduced to a series of shrill blasts on the referee's whistle, three penalty goals from Webb, a Barnes drop goal and, in injury time against a tiring defence, Guscott's try. It raised the loudest cheer of the afternoon but it had been a hollow victory.

Bath: J Webb; T Swift, P De Glanville, J Guscott, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; J Chilcott, G Dawe, V Ubogu, A Reed, N Redman, A Robinson (capt), J Hall, B Clarke.

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 (C Wright, 44), M Greenwood.

Referee: D Matthews (RFU).

Scores: Andrew (pen, 2 min, 0-3); Andrew (pen, 7 min, 0-6); Webb (pen, 32 min, 3-6); Hopley (try, 39 min, 3-11); Webb (pen, 43 min, 6-11); Webb (pen, 50 min, 9-11); Webb (pen, 59 min, 12-11); Barnes (drop goal, 76 min, 15-11); Guscott / Webb (try / conv, 83 min, 22-11).