A record crowd for the capital's double date must have turned up with all sorts of expectations, and they had most of them fulfilled in the second match of the day. A stunningly controversial opening was followed by a searing spell of quality tries before good old-fashioned forward grunt won Wasps the first-day bragging rights over the club they loved to deride as "Sequins" long before the rest of the world put the boot in over "Bloodgate".
Any cod psychologist might have predicted Quins would emerge from their scandal-ridden summer as feral chest-thumpers rather than with their tails between legs. And, oh blimey, did they come out fighting. In the first minute, and while one of Wasps' six new faces, Steve Kefu, was kicking harmlessly to touch, a brawl was ignited by the Quins lock George Robson appearing to headbutt the Wasps scrum-half, Joe Simpson, who was left sprawling while sundry other players – pretty much everyone on the field – weighed in with pushes and punches. It had been amusing before the match that the RFU-nominated referee was Dean Richards, the Berkshire-based namesake of Harlequins' disgraced and suspended director of rugby. The Richards with the whistle was deadly serious as, after consulting with his touch judges and warning the Wasps hooker, Rob Webber, for a shoulder charge, he showed Robson a red card. A meagre 44 seconds had been played.
The Richards of hugely greater renown was at Twickenham, but only in the form of the stone slab which bears the name of the former England No 8 in the Walk of Legends pavement outside the ground. That was a tribute to a playing career now besmirched by his three-year ban as the mastermind of the so-called Bloodgate case. In one sense, it was on London Double Header day last year that Richards's problems began. Nick Evans, Harlequins' £750,000 All Black fly-half, injured his knee against Saracens here, had a couple of months out and never looked completely spot-on thereafter, until the fateful Heineken Cup tie with Leinster in April when his return to the field prompted the blood-capsule substitution of Tom Williams. This was Evans's first serious match since his debut that he started without an emergency ward's worth of strapping on his leg.
There are different expectations of Wasps' No 10, Danny Cipriani, who has slipped down the England pecking order but regained some confidence after a summer operation to remove the metal plate in his ankle. He and Evans looked good in their opening salvoes. With both sides earning quick possession at the tackle, and Quins down to 14 men, there were four tries in the first half, including three between the 13th and 20th minutes. Dave Strettle bobbed and weaved to send Ugo Monye over, then Tom Varndell broke 50 metres, tossed a ball inside which was fumbled and stuck around for Cipriani to give a skilful scoring pass off his knees. Gonzalo Camacho, a Quins debutant from Argentina, made it 12-5 with a try converted by Evans.
Mark van Gisbergen kicked two penalties either side of one by Evans, then Varndell scored his second three minutes before half-time, with the ball moved through the threequarters.
Simpson had to have blood wiped from a small cut on his nose. "I was dazed and feeling quite sick at half-time," he reported afterwards. A group of Wasps followers in the south stand grinned in their Count Dracula capes with fake blood dripping down their chins. They were part of a crowd which beat the previous best by 15,000. That pointed to plenty still right about rugby, and the players mostly kept their handbags to themselves after the early fight. John Kingston, the Quins head coach, said he would "do an Arsene Wenger" and not comment on the butting until he had watched a replay. Robson was said to have apologised to all concerned; Kingston was on safer ground when declaring he was proud of his depleted team's effort.
Evans missed a presentable penalty after 56 minutes and stumbled slightly away from the tee. Any wobble is a worry: if Quins are to do as well as their second-placed finish last season, it is likely to have a large amount to do with the New Zealander and his understudy, Rory Clegg, the talented 19-year-old signed from Newcastle.
The new Wasps No 8, Dan Ward-Smith, had helped nick the line-out which led to Varndell's second try, and his charges were valuable to a Wasps pack missing Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley of the Lions and the departed Raphaël Ibanez, Tom Palmer and James Haskell.
Van Gisbergen kicked a penalty for 19-15 when Quins went offside in the 62nd minute. Evans missed from the same position as before and Wasps sealed the win with a debatable penalty try. Cipriani kicked to touch, John Hart caught the line-out and though Quins dropped the maul, a try looked far from certain. Van Gisbergen converted. Harlequins' directors privately declared themselves confident of no further challenge to the club's Heineken Cup place this season, but it was their old rivals who started the long Premiership campaign on top.
London Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Varndell, B Jacobs, S Kefu, D Lemi; D Cipriani, J Simpson (W Fury, 78); T Payne, R Webber, G Bocca (B Broster, 40), G Skivington, R Birkett, J Hart (H Ellis, 77), D Ward-Smith, S Betsen (capt).
Harlequins: U Monye; D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, G Camacho (G Lowe, 77); N Evans, D Care; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 51; J Andress, 61), M Lambert, J Percival (J Evans, 51), G Robson, C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt).
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).Reuse content