Wade and Varndell too fast for Saracens
Saracens 15 London Wasps 20: Scrum creaks but a willingness to run and mistakes from the champions contribute to satisfactory first match for the new Welsh regime at Wasps
Wasps' two new head honchos from Wales – Dai Young, the director of rugby, and Paul Turner, a guru of attack if ever there was one – would have been alarmed and heartened respectively by a creaking scrum and a willingness to run among the backs. To their joint relief, and probably that from a distance of the club's English head coach, Shaun Edwards, who is away with Wales, the overall effect was a win over the Premiership champions.
A hit-and-miss line-out did not help Saracens; nor did their tendency in the first half-hour to tackle poorly, which encouraged the 20-year-old Wasps wing Christian Wade to run from all angles. Sarries are, naturally, the team everyone wants to shoot down, but the first-day result was familiar enough. They have won only two of eight of these London Double-Header matches. Their scrum was dominant and won half a dozen penalties, but they were outscored two tries to none by a team who were ninth last season.
Both line-ups showed what can be expected from the first few weeks of the Premiership: Saracens have eight players away at the World Cup and Wasps three; for the latter there were another four members of last year's pack missing: the injured Joe Worsley and Tom Rees and Dan Ward-Smith (retired) and Simon Shaw (at the World Cup but also out of contract and possibly off the Bath).
Into the many breaches stepped some of England's younger talent, alongside a few of Wasps' 14 summer recruits, among whom the flanker Jonathan Poff was man of the match a week after arriving from New Zealand. It was a decent showing from the former understudy to Richie McCaw at the Crusaders and if Poff conceded a penalty that gave Saracens a chance to win, it was symptomatic of the same expert close-quarter grappling after the tackle by the New Zealander that, in the 66th minute, he helped strip the ball from Jackson Wray and set up Wasps' second try. Tim Payne popped a pass to Charlie Davies and though the scrum-half appeared to err in delaying his feed to Tom Varndell, the wing burned off Charlie Hodgson and Dave Strettle with swaggering ease. It was not a great defensive effort by the two some-time England men.
Another Welshman new to Wasps' black – the fly-half Nicky Robinson, who has joined from Gloucester – converted. Hodgson, from Sale, was unable to make amends when he hooked a penalty wide from 40 metres on 71 minutes. Hodgson had been away for much of the close season, training with England, which explained why Owen Farrell retained the No 10 jersey, 14 weeks on from his impressive part in Saracens' red-letter day here: the Premiership final defeat of Leicester.
That both finalists lost yesterday gave the Premiership a twist of a start. So too Wade, who has a Usain Bolt-ish turn of speed. With Saracens 6-3 up through two Farrell penalties to one by Robinson, the first try came in the 19th minute. Riki Flutey passed out of the tackle and though the ball to his right by the centre Chris Bell looked forward, Wade – the top try-scorer in the summer's Under-20 World Championship – sprinted to the line. Robinson converted.
Farrell and Robinson struck again before half-time, then Farrell missed three minutes into the second half and though the pressure on their scrum hurt Wasps, the cost on the scoreboard was limited to two penalties by Hodgson. Alex Goode was unable to get a scoring pass inside to Ernst Joubert, then Strettle had a midfield raid well halted by Davies.
"I've told the boys if they give every effort, they'll have no complaints from me and that's what they did," said Young, late of the Cardiff Blues. "I thought Saracens had a stranglehold on us for a period but we want to go out and play rugby to win rather than sit back, and that's what we did."
Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, A Powell (D Taylor, 52), B Barritt, J Short; O Farrell (C Hodgson, 49), N de Kock (B Spencer, 69); R Gill (D Carstens, 58), S Brits, C Nieto (P du Plessis, 58-60), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 49), J Melck, E Joubert, A Saull (J Wray, 52).
London Wasps H Southwell; C Wade, C Bell, R Flutey, T Varndell; N Robinson, C Davies; T Payne (J Castex, 66), R Webber, B Broster (B Baker, 48), R Birkett, M Wentzel, J Launchbury, J Hart (capt; B Vunipola, 38), J Poff.
Referee JP Doyle (London).
* In the first match of the Double-Header, a double broken arm for the No 8 Tom Guest marred Harlequins' 29-24 win over London Irish. Ugo Monye and James Johnston scored Quins' tries and Nick Evans kicked 19 points. Topsy Ojo scored twice for Irish and Tom Homer kicked 14 points.
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