Wasps . . . . .15
THERE WAS more vibrant action in the first 20 minutes of this match than there had been in the entire First Division last week.
Well-intentioned though it undoubtedly was, not much of it was effective, but had the handling been on a par with the zeal both sides displayed for the running game, this match would have been an overwhelming vindication of the law changes. Neither side can claim to have come to terms with the new laws.
Wasps, after a flamboyant opening, when they stirringly exposed the weaknesses in the Harlequins midfield defence - where Mark Evans was gravely at fault in allowing Graham Childs through for Wasps' first try - then prodigally flouted the laws time and again. They were as ill-advised in this course of action as they were indisciplined, because Fred Howard, who has sympathetic understanding of the strange circumstances in which players now find themselves, allowed no amnesty for the lawbreakers. He hardly missed a trick all afternoon and Stuart Thresher, with two penalty goals in the space of three minutes, kicked Harlequins into a lead they scarcely deserved but which they held until early in the second half.
During this spell in the first half, the Harlequins midfield which had, for the second week in succession, been disrupted by injury, lacked the authority and incisiveness of the opposition but had, in Will Carling, a player who succeeded time and again in turning the swelling tide with a series of mighty touch kicks. They performed the dual function of raising the flagging spirits of his forwards and taking much of the steam out of the Wasps' pack. Furthermore, Harlequins were winning a lot of possession at the line-out but little came from it, partly because of Wasps' relentlessly hostile back-row defence, but also due to a depressing absence of imagination in the Quins' backline.
Rob Glenister, moved to full-back after the enforced departure of David Pears at Bath last week, was, on this occasion, dragooned into playing fly-half in place of Paul Challinor, who had to leave the field after just eight minutes with a mouth injury.
Wasps' scrummage, a great deal more profitable than their line-out, had secured one strike against the head in the first half and so comfortable were the front row that they were able to move about the field with a mobility seldom matched by their opposite numbers. After the formidable Mike White had once again battered down the barricades early in the second half, Jeff Probyn took the ball into the maul and Francis Emeruwa was credited with the try which Alan Buzza converted.
It was no more than Wasps deserved because, a few minutes earlier, Childs, who had demonstrated admirable aggression both in attack and defence, had taken advantage of yet another faux pas by Evans only to hold on to the ball a fraction too long with Chris Oti free outside him.
The Wasps full-back, Buzza, may have induced panic once or twice by his positional eccentricities but a number of priceless tackles, the best of the bunch being one on Neil Killick, who had swooped on to a defensive mistake inside the Wasps' 22, did his cause as a potential English full-back no harm. His penalty nine minutes from time gave Wasps the cushion they sought.
Two wins out of two, both away from home, have saved Wasps the indignity of the dogfight to stay out of the bottom four which now confronts Harlequins, who, try as they might, just cannot get the sum of their highly talented parts to add up. But had they more players in the side with the enthusiasm and stamina of Peter Winterbottom, they might not now be in such a position.
Winterbottom of all people could have been excused a more sedate entry into the fray after his hernia operation, but he knows of no other way to play the game and how it must have saddened him to see the careless profligacy of so many of his colleagues.
Harlequins: S Thresher; A Harriman, W Carling, M Evans, M Wedderburn; P Challinor (B Short 8 min), R Glenister; M Hobley, N Killick, A Mullins, S Dear (A Challis 67 min), A Snow, M Russell, P Winterbotton (cpt), C Sheasby,
Wasps: A Buzza; J Abadom, F Clough, G Childs, C Oti; A Thompson, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, D Ryan (cpt), F Emeruwa, M White, M Greenwood.
Referee: F Howard (RFU).
Scorers: Childs (try, 8min) 0-5; Thresher (pen, 26 min) 3-5; Thresher (pen, 29 min), 6-5; Emeruwa/Buzza (try/con, 47m) 6-12; Buzza (pen, 71 min) 6-15; Evans/Thresher (try/con, 83 min) 13-15.
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