Saracens climbed to second in the Premiership, and Gavin Henson ended his 21-month exile, in a Wembley "derby" yesterday that swung from shoddy to stunning. Henson, the Lions and Wales centre, entered the fray early in the second half, and nearly marked his comeback with a try. Saracens should have won by more.
Henson was like an excited teenager afterwards. "I really enjoyed it out there. I slipped a few tackles and wasn't affected by the pace," he said. "As for the try opportunity, I didn't know I was over the line, but the lad did get under me and I didn't ground it. I'm repeatedly asked about Wales, but now I need to make a start for Saracens, preferably at 12 or 10. I was at 13 out there, which means you sometimes see less of the ball so, hopefully, I'll be moved inside," Henson said. "Nothing changes in sport, you have to play well and selection follows. I have work to do but it does feel good right now."
After watching Owen Farrell miss the game's opening penalty, Joe Simpson elected to tap and go when Wasps were awarded their first six minutes in. His break across Sarries' defence attempted disruption, but they held their shape.
Farrell then missed a drop-goal attempt, followed by a penalty miss by Dave Walder as the game dragged into its second quarter devoid of points, or excitement for that matter.
Saracens had the edge up front, but with the veteran France open side Serge Betsen intimidating Farrell, their play-making department was not functioning properly.
The puzzle for the Wembley crowd was the substandard rugby being displayed by so many talented professionals. A case in point came on 32 minutes when Simpson threw a hopeful pass in-field, where hooker Tom Lindsay was about to be buried by a wave of tacklers. Lindsay saved the bloodshed by fumbling woefully before a hand could be laid upon him.
So when Farrell finally broke the deadlock with a penalty in front of the posts just before the half-time, the cheers were more in relief than celebration. The groans soon returned as Farrell stepped up for the kick only to shank it past the right-hand post.
Given the superiority of Saracens in the tight, the 3-0 interval scoreline highlighted their problems in the key decision-making zones. They cranked up the pressure after the break and were quickly rewarded. Ernst Joubert injected some pace into midfield, three further phases opened Wasps' back door and Neil de Kock showed his Test quality with an offload to young flanker Andy Saull, who virtually crawled over the line. Farrell's conversion was spot on.
And then Henson returned. Within two minutes he pounced on a Wasps scramble, but although he got over the line, Simpson did wonderfully well to prevent him touching down.
No sooner had Saracens taken apparent control of the game than Wasps battled back and reduced the arrears by six points with two quality penalties, struck firmly by Walder.
Saracens surged back with a searing break by Schalk Brits, which was halted only by a deliberate offside. Farrell kicked the resulting penalty.
Those who feared for Henson after his self-imposed exile and television activities need not have concerned themselves. He flattened tacklers, looked safe in possession and you sensed the hunger in a player delighted to be back where he belongs.
The hunger was also evident in Wasps' ranks, but their shambolic line-out proved so costly. On three occasions Walder kicked penalties deep into Saracens territory, and three times Saracens wrecked the resultant line-out, with the former England captain Steve Borthwick key to their expertise in that area.
Scorers: Saracens: Try Saull; Conversion Farrell; Penalty Farrell (2). Wasps: Penalties Walder (2).
Saracens C Wyles (Goode, 12); D Strettle, M Tagicakibau (Henson, 51), B Barritt, J Short; O Farrell, N de Kock (Wigglesworth, 64); D Carstens, S Brits, C Nieto (Du Plessis, 51), S Borthwick (capt), H Vyvyan (Smith, 51), K Brown (Saull, h-t), E Joubert, J Melck.
Wasps M van Gisbergen; T Varndell, B Jacobs (capt), S Kefu, D Lemi; D Walder, J Simpson (Berry, 63); Z Taulafo (Payne, 52), T Lindsay, B Broster, S Shaw, J Cannon (Veale, 70), J Worsley, A Powell, S Betsen.
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).
Fan's golden foot rattles bar and Sarries' coffers
Saracens may begin to wonder if their Wembley extravaganzas are becoming just a tad too expensive. Victory over Wasps yesterday may have hauled them up to second in the table, but another face from the crowd stepped to wealth via their "Crossbar Challenge".
Last year an IT worker, Stuart Tinner, hit the crossbar at Wembley with a first attempt in bare feet, and walked away with £250,000. Yesterday it was 33-year-old Hertfordshire accounts director, Matthew Rouse, whose left-foot hoof towards the heavens landed smack on top of the bar.
Rouse, who admits his playing career was ordinary on a good day, revealed: "I was joking before I left the house that I might have a go at the challenge and come back rich. When I found myself on the pitch, the main emotion was terror. I just went for it. I'm taking my family to Disneyland where I can think about what to do with the rest of it."