David Walder might seem to be the prototypical "next big thing" that never quite happened. Four England caps and a decade in the Premiership are not to be sneezed at, but are not quite the dazzling career that seemed possible when he first emerged at Newcastle.
One reason perhaps is that he has so often played second fiddle to starrier figures – Jonny Wilkinson at Newcastle and now Danny Cipriani at Wasps.
Neither of them, though, can have achieved what Walder did against Saracens – winning man of the match in spite of playing only the last 16 minutes. There could be no arguing about the justice of the award either.
Wasps trailed 17-9 when he came on at outside-half, with starter Danny Cipriani moving to full-back, after 64 minutes. Eleven minutes later they led 33-24 after Walder had kicked a penalty, helped set up three tries and converted them all.
Walder said: "It was up to me to bring impetus to the game and in a way we had nothing to lose. It was a case of aiming for a bonus point and throwing the ball around."
He may have turned not only a match, but Wasps' season. Defeat would have left them 13 points off the play-off pace, and uncomfortably close to the relegation zone, with 13 matches left. Nine points is still a considerable deficit, but the renowned fast finishers at last have some momentum.
And while most pre-match publicity focused on the possible futures of Cipriani and James Haskell, Walder's current form – he was also man of the match in both Heineken Cup ties against Edinburgh – does no harm to his case for a fresh contract with the Premiership champions.
It also leaves director of rugby Ian McGeechan with a selection conundrum. Cipriani is the clear first choice at outside-half and, several years younger, also the future. But he is currently being out-performed by an older, less well regarded alternative. Cipriani was certainly not exclusively to blame for Wasps' failings in a first hour that fully explained their low league position, but nor did his fallible decision-making and place-kicking, missing two simple penalties, help. Walder left little doubt that he would like to start at Sale on Boxing Day.
Baffled by the loss of a match that looked under control, Saracens coach Eddie Jones could take some comfort in the form of powerful 20-year-old wing Noah Cato. Though culpable for Wasps' second try, he more than compensated with two of his own – the second after completing Cipriani's afternoon by mesmerising him to a standstill then beating him on the outside.
Wasps: Tries Hoadley, Sackey, Lewsey; Conversions Walder 3; Penalties Cipriani 3, Walder; Saracens: Tries Cato 2; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 4.
Wasps L Mitchell (D Walder, 64); P Sackey, R Hoadley, J Lewsey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan (T Simpson, 66); T Payne (T French, 66), R Webber (J Ward, 66), P Vickery (capt); S Shaw, T Palmer (G Skivington, 68); J Worsley, J Haskell, T Rees (S Betsen, blood bin 77).
Saracens A Goode; K Ratuvou, K Sorrell (A Powell, 52), A Farrell (B Barritt, 64), N Cato; G Jackson, N de Kock (J Rauluni, 64); M Aguero, F Ongaro, C Johnston; S Borthwick (capt), C Jack (H Vyvyan, blood bin 18-24, permanent 64); B Skirving (A Saull 56), M Owen, W van Heerden.
Referee: D Pearson (England).
The Saracens fly-half Glen Jackson's 14 points during Saturday's loss at Wasps took him to 121 points for the campaign, the highest in the Premiership this season. The only other player to have scored over 100 is London Irish's Peter Hewat.Reuse content