Rugby Union: Wasps pass West test

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West Hartlepool. . .6

Wasps. . . . . . . 19

LIFE in West Hartlepool is not an everyday topic at tables in St Jean-de-Luz, but when Wasps were on the Cote Basque for a short pre-season tour last month, their players talked about little else at meal times.

Rob Smith, the Wasps coach who walked out on the London club halfway through last season because, in his words, 'we weren't properly focused', insisted on his return they directed their thoughts towards what he saw as a potential tank trap on the road to re-establishing Wasps as legitimate championship challengers.

On Smith's previous visit to Brierton Lane, in the Pilkington Cup two years ago, West were an underrated Third Division outfit and Wasps were somewhat fortunate to escape with a 7-3 verdict. Since that unnerving experience, West have lost only two league matches and have taken their place in the top division on merit.

With an enviable sense of regional identity and a pack to match, West Hartlepool was no place to be, except for those with the strongest digestive systems, according to the Wasps coach who predicts this year's league campaign will be 'dog eat dog just to survive'.

After an opening quarter Wasps' worst fears looked as if they may be realised, before the visitors gradually began to assert themselves with a confidence almost unbecoming of a side which has undergone so much re-shaping.

Dean Ryan - not the first England squad No 8 to be moved forward to the second row - shored up a flimsy looking line-out, behind which Matthew Greenwood, in Ryan's place, made an immediate impact for his new club, to the obvious approval of the national team manager, Geoff Cooke.

West grabbed the initiative as John Stabler kicked the first of his two penalties, but shortly after the interval the contest was all but dead. Buster White had scored the only try of the game, just before the break, which Alan Buzza converted, to add to an earlier penalty which had tied the scores.

Thereafter Wasps played all the imaginative football. Though they were unable to breach West's solid defence, three more Buzza penalties sent their coach home a contented man.

For Smith at least, dinner on the road back to London must have been like a banquet.

West Hartlepool: Penalties Stabler 2. Wasps: Try White; Conversion Buzza; Penalties

Buzza 4.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; O Evans, C Lee, P Hodder, D Cooke; J Stabler (capt), J Rigley; P Lancaster, S Mitchell, P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Blyth, P Evans, A Brown.

Wasps: A Buzza; D Hopley, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; A Thompson, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (capt), F Emeruwa, M Greenwood, M White.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bath).