Rugby Union: Wasps take a strong hold

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West Hartlepool. . .9

Wasps. . . . . . . 15

IT WAS just when we thought it safe to come out of hibernation that winter struck the east coast with a vengeance. The snow which covered the field before kick-off was bad enough but the bitter wind which blew up added to the players' discomfort and reduced this Pilkington Cup quarter-final tie to an untidy scramble for possession.

It was never a lottery, however, because Wasps were far too well organised and in control to allow their opponents anywhere near a place in the last four. The margin of victory may not have reflected the gulf between the sides but the forward exchanges most certainly did and when Wasps, who had chosen to face the wind in the first half, were a point ahead, we knew that West Hartlepool were facing hopeless odds.

Wasps had no intention of indulging in fanciful moves behind the scrum, preferring instead to take the safe and direct route to their opponents' line through the irresistible driving play of their pack. Their line-out organisation, too, was very much superior and the agility of their main jumpers was given an additional boost by the presence of Francis Emeruwa and Matt Greenwood. This was something that West Hartlepool were never able to match although John Dixon and Paul Evans put up stout resistance.

The maul was another area around which Wasps marshalled their forces, time and again sending their opponents into inglorious retreat and frustrating them in their attempt to break free to score the points they needed when they had the wind in their favour.

It was not a day for goalkicking and even with the wind behind him John Stabler, normally most reliable, had difficulty in gauging the strength of the wind and keeping the ball on course. The three penalties he did kick, all in the first half, were struck with an uncertainty which latterly seemed to affect the rest of his game. When in the closing stages West's only sensible course of action was to run the ball, Stabler seemed hesitant to release his backs. Dave Cooke was given a few opportunities on the left wing but the speed and guile needed to break down a defence of Wasps' calibre was never there.

The rolling maul inevitably broke down West's resistance and when Kevin Dunn was driven over the line to score Wasps' first try, which Rob Andrew converted, after just seven minutes the pattern of the game was set. Line-out followed line-out, most of them going Wasps' way and Andrew was content to nurse the touchlines. West Hartlepool just could not get sufficient possession to mount any worthwhile attacks over a sustained period.

The standard of play deteriorated in the second half, the result no doubt both of the intense cold and the firm belief in West Hartlepool minds that whatever they tried there was no way through, round or over the Wasps' defence.

Andrew dropped a goal in the closing seconds of the first half and then, five minutes into the second period, Alan Buzza slipped through Cooke's tackle on the right touchline to score Wasps' second try. It was, apart from the chilling cold, a painless passage into the semi-finals for Wasps.

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

Referee: S Lander (RFU)

Scores: Stabler (pen, 3 min, 3-0); Dunn / Andrew (try/conv, 7 min, 7-3); Stabler (pen, 19 min, 6-7); Stabler (pen, 34 min, 9-7); Andrew (drop goal, 40 min, 9-10); Buzza (try, 45 min 9-15).