Abbott sets the pace in fast start for champions
Wasps 23 Saracens 11
Monday 05 September 2005
Abbott has had more than his share of rotten luck in recent seasons - a broken this, a battered that, a badly bruised something else - but when he is fresh and fit and more or less in one piece, he has a knack of unlocking the most secure defences. Saracens are not quite rugby's version of Fort Knox, but when Alex Sanderson is rampaging around knocking seven bells out of people and the contrasting figures of Kevin Yates and Richard Haughton are in a mood to contribute try-saving tackles of the very highest quality, they are no one's idea of a Wendy house, either. The fact that Abbott suckered them more than once at Twickenham on Saturday reinforced his reputation as an attacker of international calibre.
Some of his passing was a little off-key - more than anything else, the problem was one of timing after last season's periods of enforced inactivity - but the way he flummoxed the Saracens midfield in the final minute of this opening game and put Fraser Waters in under the sticks for the coup de grâce was enough to warm the cockles. England have not exactly spent the 22 months since their World Cup victory pushing back the boundaries of sporting creativity, so we should be thankful for small mercies.
The game was not wholly without its familiar points of reference. Wasps were horribly outscrummaged early on - well, there's a surprise - but they made up for their deficiencies in the grunt-and-groan department by outpacing Saracens with ball in hand. Tom Voyce, a natural poacher, claimed their first try just after the half-hour mark following some characteristically athletic approach work from Joe Worsley, but had it not been for Yates' extraordinary full-frontal tackle on Martin Purdy millimetres from the Saracens line, they would already have been on the board.
In the second half, Paul Sackey failed to maximise two open-goal opportunities, first fumbling a try-scoring pass in the right corner and then allowing himself to be caught on the diagonal by Haughton after setting sail from his own 22. There again, Wasps had no need to be particularly clinical. With Glen Jackson, the very opposite of Haughton, in ponderous mood at outside-half, Saracens posed no threat worthy of the name.
Jackson can kick, admittedly, but so could Muffin the Mule. The Watford-based club need much more wit in the decision-making positions if they are to derive full value from their excellent pack.
They did manage one try. Ben Skirving, a 21-year-old No 8 whose driving from the set-piece would draw applause from Lawrence Dallaglio in the unlikely event of the celebrated Lion giving the likes of Saracens any encouragement whatsoever, scored down the left after out-pacing Alex King and breaking through Sackey's powder-puff tackle. Skirving has a bit about him, and if his coaches have any sense, they will ignore the claims of his seniors and give him his head.
Wasps: Tries Voyce, Waters; Conversions Van Gisbergen 2; Penalties Van Gisbergen 3. Saracens: Try Skirving; Penalties Jackson 2.
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, A Erinle (F Waters, 65), S Abbott, T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 38-40), E Reddan (M Dawson, 59); T Payne, R Ibanez (B Gotting, 56-77), P Bracken (J Dawson, 40), M Purdy (T Rees, 22), R Birkett, J Hart (capt), J O'Connor, J Worsley.
Saracens: T Castaignède; R Haughton, B Johnston (D Harris, 65), K Sorrell, D Scarbrough; G Jackson, A Dickens (M Rauluni, 58); K Yates (N Lloyd, 33), M Cairns (S Byrne, 51), C Visagie (Yates, 72), K Chesney (I Fullarton, 46), H Vyvyvan (capt), B Russell (A Sanderson, 15), D Seymour, B Skirving.
Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).
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