Rugby Union: Wasps run to hide their inadequacies

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Harlequins. . . 13

Wasps. . . . . .15

SUCH is the way of the league that Dean Ryan, Wasps' new captain, found himself in the faintly absurd position of discussing his side's championship potential on a day they had been barely able to put two passes together.

To be sure, two wins, both away from home, have put the 1990 champions up with the pace-setters, and it represents their best start in the league. But results against West Hartlepool, who already seem to be facing a long winter slog, and a Harlequins team with an injury list longer than Graeme Souness's hardly make an incontestable case.

Neither does the way Wasps are playing. They are - and they have to be because of the sheer lack of physical presence in the front five - devotees of the running game. They take every opportunity to play fast and loose, from Adrian Thompson dancing round tackles at stand-off, to the open side flanker, Buster White, crashing through in the centre and Fran Clough and Chris Oti pouring on the power outside.

It all sounds rather exciting, and indeed it often is. But it is not clever, nor, against a better tuned defence than Harlequins' patched-up jalopy, is it likely to be especially effective until Wasps' passing ability matches their running skills. Graham Childs' first- half try, thrilling though it was, emphasised the point. After whizzing through a gap created by Mark Evans' missed tackle, he ignored a two-man overlap to take the riskier route to the line.

Up front, the shortcomings are, literally, more glaring. In these days of basketball line-out experts, the best Wasps can manage is the 6ft 6in Matt Greenwood, and he is the No 8. Ryan has moved forward from the back row and is not a practised middle jumper. So the clean catch is rarely an option - instead Wasps' line-out is all tapping and flapping.

They more than held their own in the tight scrums, though, as well as in the mauls and rucks, from one of which the impressive Francis Emeruwa pounced for the second, decisive, try. But whether that would have been the case against a Quins pack containing Jason Leonard and Brian Moore in the front row and Richard Langhorn in the back is open to debate. Small wonder that Ryan wanted title questions delayed until February. 'We've had good starts before and not carried it on,' he explained.

As for Quins, their team manager, Jamie Salmon, had said beforehand that it would be virtually impossible to lose two matches and win the league. He did not expect Bath to slip up twice, he said, and he was not changing his tune.

True, luck has deserted his side. Injuries forced a reshuffle at Bath, and again here, when stand-off Paul Challinor broke his nose in a collision with Peter Winterbottom after just five minutes. But even so, they still should have made more of the ample ball they won, especially from the line-out where Simon Dear ruled until he was flattened by Ryan. 'There was,' the Wasps captain said blithely, 'a lot of arm-waving going on.'

Harlequins: Try Evans; Conversion Thresher; Penalties Thresher 2. Wasps: Tries Childs, Emeruwa; Conversion Buzza; Penalty Buzza.

Harlequins: S Thresher; A Harriman, W Carling, M Evans, M Wedderburn; P Challinor (B Short, 8), R Glenister; M Hobley, N Killick, A Mullins, S Dear (A Challis 67), A Snow, M Russell, C Sheasby, P Winterbottom (capt).

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

Referee: F Howard (St Helens).