There was a gala feel here yesterday, thanks to a record-breaking crowd for the double-header with which the London clubs open the Premiership season. But the sense of anticipation was diluted as Wasps and Harlequins ground almost to a halt in a nervy second half.
By the close both sides were grateful to their kickers, Mark van Gisbergen and Nick Evans respectively, who each scored 19 points. Chris White, England's most experienced referee, seemed eager to impress the need for greater accuracy in the loose than the players could provide.
Time was when these best of enemies would have gone at each other hammer and tongs, with little thought for constructive rugby. Now the key to both clubs is attitude. As well as the will to play with width there is the need for Wasps to reclaim their place among the Premiership leaders and for Harlequins to recover the ground lost after the Bloodgate saga. It has taken them a season to recover equilibrium after an event that reverberates still – last month the General Medical Council agreed that Wendy Chapman, Quins' erstwhile match-day doctor, could resume practice.
It took them less than two minutes to open the scoring here, however, Evans swaying through the Wasps defence before sending Nick Easter to the line. Yet by the interval Wasps had asserted themselves, utterly dismissing the loss of Joe Worsley to the sin-bin. With Riki Flutey rejuvenated at fly-half after a season undone by a shoulder injury and an ill-judged move to Brive, they opted to look for space and use the pace and running skills of their back three.
Van Gisbergen is of the same mind as his fly-half when it comes to the running game. If it was not Flutey stepping and dodging it was Van Gisbergen, and together they gave Wasps a momentum that Harlequins found hard to handle. Evans kicked two penalties but Van Gisbergen kept Wasps in touch and then kicked the conversion that tied the scores after Andy Powell scored his first try in Wasps colours.
The Wales and Lions No 8 was delighted, though he would acknow-ledge the contribution of his midfield backs which led to the ruck 10 metres out from which Tom Rees popped up the scoring pass.
On the half-hour a pass by Evans cannoned off Jordan Turner-Hall and straight into the hands of Flutey, who made the running for Tom Varndell to finish. Evans recovered three points when Worsley was shown a yellow card for obstruction; wonderful running by Flutey and Ben Jacobs should have created a try for Dominic Waldouck had not the centre knocked on when 15 metres from the line.
After Van Gisbergen hit the post with a penalty Harlequins offended at a ruck and the full-back succeeded from much closer range. It was Quins' propensity to offend at the breakdown that allowed Van Gisbergen to extend the lead early in the second half, though only after Harlequins had come within an ace of a second try. Chris Brooker dummied through the middle, the hooker looking like a centre, but he was held up over the line.
With Worsley back on the field, Wasps denied Danny Care and Chris Robshaw and the carefree attitude of the first half gave way to an edgier affair as Wasps maintained a four-point lead. David Walder's arrival confirmed the need for Wasps to exercise tactical control, but they could not stop the intricate work at the breakdown of their rivals before the ball sped to Mike Brown on the left and the full-back reclaimed the lead. It lasted eight minutes before Van Gisbergen tied matters up with his fifth penalty.
London Wasps M van Gisbergen; R Haughton (D Walder, 63), B Jacobs, D Waldouck, T Varndell; R Flutey, N Berry; T Payne (S Taulafo, 63), R Webber (T Lindsay, 70), P Vickery (B Broster, 70), S Shaw, R Birkett (D Ward-Smith, 41), J Worsley, A Powell (S Betsen, 41), T Rees (capt).
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (O Smith, 68); N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 68); C Jones (J Marler, 51), C Brooker (M Cairns, 51), M Lambert (J Johnston, 51), O Kohn (T Guest, 55), T Vallejos (P Browne, 73), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter, W Skinner.
Referee C White (Gloucestershire).