Rugby Union: Wasps outlast Saints

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WASPS were dead on their feet last night after a physical feat that defied the imagination. First they survived a semi-final that went to extra time against the Western Samoans, and then they fought back from a deficit of 19 points to deny a stunned Northampton the Middlesex Sevens title.

Regulars here have never seen anything quite like it. Some members of the 30,000 crowd were already heading for the exits as the Saints built up a head of steam that seemed to be leading them to their only Twickenham triumph. Wasps thought otherwise and soon people were hurrying back to catch a glimpse of the closing action.

Wasps had not won here since they beat Nottingham eight years ago. But, fortified by Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the driving forces behind England's triumph in last month's World Cup Sevens, there was no stopping London's finest this time.

Organisers have been looking to the southern hemisphere to revitalise their programme, and the Samoans have certainly done that. Last year, they won hands down with a dazzling display and they looked to be on their way again, though they dropped considerably in the popularity ratings during the course of a chilly afternoon.

Their troubles started in the quarter-finals after they had let the Middlesex juniors, Old Gaytonians, off lightly first time around. But against London Irish, the body count was high and while they ended up 17-14 winners they were roundly booed for their late tackling and time wasting.

Wasps then took on the role of heroes when Paul Volley escaped for an extra-time try, the Samoans departing with three performances of their war dance that did much to restore public relations.

Wasps, mind, appeared exhausted from their efforts until, from 24-5 down a minute into the second half against Northampton, they clawed their way home with tries from Phil Hopley, Mike Friday and Mike White, Hopley landing all three conversions. Some win]

Northampton: H Thorneycroft, F Packman, J Steele (capt), N Knowles; M Steffart, P Pask, M Ord.

Wasps: L Scrase, P Hopley, A Thompson (capt), M Friday; L Dallaglio, P Volley, M White.

Referee: N Cousins (Herne Hill).

Scorers: Wasps: Tries Hopley (2), Friday, White. Conversions H Hopley (3). Northampton: Tries Steffart, Knowles, Ord. Conversions Steele (3). Penalty Steele.