Rugby Union: West ground high flyers

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool. . .20

Wasps. . . . . . . .15

WASPS, who have embarked upon an exhilarating journey of discovery this season came off the tracks yesterday, derailed as much by the resilience of their opponents as by conditions wretchedly unsuited to their newly adopted style.

It was never less than a thoroughly entertaining match, which, given the wind and drizzle, was a tribute to the attitude of both sides. Wasps refused to abandon their policy of moving the ball at every opportunity, even in the last 10 minutes when they were five points behind and twice had the opportunity to kick for goal.

On both occasions they took the scrummage in their efforts to score the try. But the West Hartlepool defence was equal to every demand, their superbly committed back row being egged on by Derrick Patterson, whose performance at scrum-half on his league debut was closely monitored by a Scottish selector.

As wave upon wave of Wasps attacks were repelled it became clear that they had run out of ideas if not resolve. Their attitude is admirable, their technique less so. To play this game successfully they will require quicker thinking at half-back, particularly at scrum-half, where Steve Bates's many gifts do not include a quick pass or a particularly agile mind. Neither are their forwards quite fast enough to the point of breakdown for them to achieve the continuity to fuel their new-found passion.

It is to be hoped, though, that this first reverse will not deflect Wasps from their course, because it has much to commend it, not least as a spectacle. As with everything else in rugby, however, it depends on forward control, and Wasps were thwarted by a powerful and agile West Hartlepool eight.

Indeed for the first 10 minutes it was West who ran the game, their forwards sweeping upfield against the wind in sweet harmony. Mick Watson at No 8 was enjoying a productive partnership with Patterson and it was no surprise - although it clearly bewildered Wasps - when Anthony Elwine put John Stabler over between the posts. This might not have worried Wasps unduly, given that they came good in the second half last week, but with the wind freshening they could delay no longer.

Their response was impressive. Guy Gregory kicked a penalty and Matt Greenwood scored a try when Wasps ran the ball instead of taking a penalty in front of the posts. West then conceded a line-out on their own line for Paddy Dunston to score.

The question of whether an eight-point advantage would be enough playing into the wind was quickly answered. Wasps persisted in trying to run out of trouble when in fact they were running into it. Matthew Emmerson scored from a line- out, Kevan Oliphant converted and kicked two penalties as Wasps attempted to extricate themselves from West's ever tightening grip.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; G Evans, A Elwine, P Hodder (capt), D Cooke; J Stabler, D Patterson; T Rusby, S Mitchell, M Shelley, J Dixon, K Westgarth, M Emmerson, M Watson, A Brown.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Hunter, G Childs, D Hopley, P Hopley (A Gomersall 43); G Gregory, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, N Hadley, L Dallaglio, D Ryan (capt) (R Kinsey 63), C Wilkins.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax)