Rugby Union: Wasps' thoroughly modern winning ways

Wasps 36 Sale 10
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The Independent Online
Wasps 36 Sale 10

It has been a terrible year for received wisdoms. So the French always lose their rags under pressure, do they? The manner of their Grand Slam suggested otherwise. Rugby league men can play union in their sleep, eh? Ask Henry Paul. And how about the oldest adage of them all: that no one wins matches, let alone titles, without a bristling brood of certifiable nasties up front? Wasps have blown that to smithereens.

For long periods of yesterday's potentially fraught encounter at Loftus Road - a contest the champions-elect could not afford to lose - Wasps found it impossible to lay a hand on the ball. So starved were they of possession, particularly during the first half, that every unwritten rule in the game stipulated victory for the visitors. Dewi Morris probably fired out more passes between the 10-minute mark and the half-hour than in an England career spanning eight hugely industrious seasons.

Yet the Cheshire club found themselves 16-3 adrift at the break and conceded another 17 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half.

If strong, hard-working, honest-to-goodness forwards like Dave Baldwin, Dave Erskine, Dylan O'Grady and John Mitchell opted for a suicide pact, most of those who witnessed events at Shepherd's Bush would understand the reasons why.

It must now be crystal clear to the rest of the Courage League elite that Wasps are playing with their heads rather than their biceps. Lawrence Dallaglio's outfit may not frighten opponents at scrum and line-out or use endless rolling mauls, but they sure know how to play within their limitations.

Alex King's slide-rule angles from stand-off give Dallaglio and Chris Sheasby, quite superb yesterday, all the ammunition they need. Quick recycling techniques, based largely on the fail-safe pressure handling of Will Green and Matt Greenwood, get the outside backs involved early and, with Gareth Rees kicking goals from all parts, there is no shortage of strike-power.

To that you can add the undefinables: wit and vision. Rob Henderson's opening try on nine minutes, direct from a swiftly-taken tapped penalty, caught Sale napping; King's perfect delayed feed to Dallaglio gave Kenny Logan an inside line for the second; Shane Roiser's all-or-nothing interception of Adrian Hadley's pass brought a seven-point return with a clever finish under the posts. Born of instinct and intellect, those tries marked out Wasps as a thoroughly modern, supremely fit and highly professional unit.

Not that Sale looked entirely laboured by comparison. They possess an uncut diamond in Jos Baxendell, whose off-the-cuff prompting from stand- off after Simon Mannix's premature departure would not have looked out of place for Wasps. Frustratingly, however, his club-mates were unable to tune into the same wavelength.

Dallaglio and company now head for Franklins Gardens, Northampton, on Saturday in search of the point that will assure them of championship glory. "The Saints have five Lions in their side so they must be good," grinned Dallaglio, his tongue in close proximity to his cheek. "Seriously, there will be a lot of personal battles going on and it's up to us to stay focused on the job in hand. It's not over yet."

No, not quite. But Wasps are within touching distance and no-one on the right side of sanity would bet against them now.

Wasps: Tries Henderson, Logan, Roiser, Greenstock; Conversions Rees 2; Penalties Rees 3; Drop goal King. Sale: Try Beim; Conversion Hadley; Penalty Mannix.

Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy, S Mitchell, W Green, M Greenwood, A Reed (D Croni, 47), L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, M White (P Scrivener, 47).

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, A Hadley, T Beim; S Mannix (C Yates, 15), D Morris; P Winstanley, S Diamond, A Smith, D Erskine, D Baldwin, J Mitchell, C Vyvyan, D O'Grady.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).