Northampton 24 London Wasps 20: Ashton and Myler thrive in big league as Wasps fall apart

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The Independent Online

It was fitting that Chris Ashton flipped the ball back on his team's side for Stephen Myler to welly it safely into touch at the final whistle. The Lancastrians with rugby league backgrounds had been Saints' bright sparks in an attrit-ional second home win on their return to the Premiership. The champions, Wasps, were left with a measly bonus point and fresh worries over injuries as they fell to an unprecedented third defeat out of three at the start of a league season.

Ashton's National League One record of 39 tries on the way to Northampton's promotion last year was no guarantee he would prosper in the Premiership. But having been booed out of town by Wigan fans when he announced his switch of codes last year he has taken to union well, roaming the field and acting decisively when the chance arises.

Myler, once of St Helens and Widnes and from solid 13-a-side stock, joined the action midway through the second half and almost instantly gave the long miss-pass for Sean Lamont's winning try. He kicked the conversion from the touchline.

It is difficult to put a finger precisely on Wasps' problems, and it would be lunacy to write off the winners of four out of the past six play-off finals. For whatever reason, though, James Haskell and Riki Flutey are among the star men yet to show their true selves. Dave Walder's horrendous touch-kicking from fly-half did them no favours yesterday either. There are many players – Northampton's Ulster recruits Roger Wilson and Neil Best included – who are frustrated at the new refereeing protocol which aims to clean up the breakdown but has yet to create a fluid game. Ditto theping-pong kicking to which some teams have resorted under the experimentallaw variations.

Haskell, Flutey and friends in the 32-man seniorEngland squad are entitled to a week's rest from club matches before the autumn Tests, and another between the autumn and the Six Nations' Championship. It was the turn of Simon Shaw and Tom Rees yesterday, though it was Josh Lewsey who looked in armchair mode when Northampton scored after 45 seconds. Bruce Reihana took a mark in his 22, punted to the other end and charged down a lackadaisical Lewsey, who had waited for the ball to bounce before gathering and attempting to clear.

Reihana converted, but that was as good as the Saints captain's kicking got in the first half. Ian McGeechan, the British and Irish Lions head coach for next summer, might have smiled at Northampton's Scotland tighthead, Euan Murray, helping to force two penalties out of Wasps' scrum; McGeechan the Wasp could only grimace. Reihana, though, missed both resulting kicks late in the first half, and he was also off-target after 22 minutes.

Walder kicked a penalty in the seventh minute then combined sweetly with Tom Voyce to make a tryfor Dominic Waldouck. Another penalty by Walder had Wasps 11-7 up after 17 minutes, the kick – glory be – earned by Wasps proving the driving maul is not yet extinct. Then Ashton struck. Carlos Spencer hoisted a kick to the Wasps 22, Best beat Lewsey in the air to tap it back and Ashton ran it in, with Reihana converting.

A penalty each by Reihana and Walder opened the second half; then the referee, Chris White, sent the hookers, Dylan Hartley and Rob Webber (a first-half replacement for Joe Ward), to the sin-bin for punching, though it was no more than a quick bout of handbags, certainly not of the order of Hartley's gouging against Wasps in 2007 which got him a six-month ban. What happened next? Uncontested scrums. Daft.

Haskell, having switched from No 8 to openside after the home defeat by Worcester last Sunday, got a knock and went off groggily, and Wasps introduced two quality signings in Serge Betsen and Mark Robinson.

There was more hope of a revival when Walder kicked a penalty from halfway after 64 minutes. But Northampton nailed the win three minutes later. Lamont had plenty to do when he received Myler's pass, but with a pirouette and Reihana driving in behind, the wing forced past some poor Wasps tackling. Listless kicking and hand-ling by Wasps as they attempted to attack from deep was nowhere near enough to change the result.

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); C Ashton,J Ansbro, J Downey (S Myler, 62), S Lamont;C Spencer, L Dickson (B Foden, 58); S Tonga'uiha (T Smith, 61), D Hartley, E Murray(B Stewart, 61), I Fernandez Lobbe (A Rae, 62), C Day, N Best, R Wilson, S Gray.

London Wasps: J Lewsey; P Sackey, D Waldouck, R Flutey, T Voyce; D Walder, E Reddan (M Robinson, 61); T Payne (P Barnard, 40), J Ward (R Webber, 36), P Vickery (capt), R Birkett (D Leo, 64), T Palmer, J Worsley, J Hart, J Haskell (S Betsen, 66).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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