Walder's wonders give Wasps their sting back

London Wasps 33 Saracens 24
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was not quite Ten Days That Shook The World, but this may go down as "Ten Minutes That Shook The Premiership". When David Walder replaced the Wasps full-back, Lachlan Mitchell, after 64 minutes and moved to outside-half, with the out-of-sorts Danny Cipriani shifting to the back, the reigning champions trailed 17-9 and looked destined for a fifth consecutive home defeat.

Within 60 seconds Walder had kicked a penalty; 10 minutes after that Wasps led 33-17 and an amazed crowd was baying for a bonus point-bearing fourth try.

Walder played a significant role in three tries inside four minutes. In the 71st minute, after Saracens' defenders had been sucked in by an assault on the right, he provided the pass that sent the centre Rob Hoadley through a gap midway out on the left to score. Walder's conversion made it 19-17 to the home side.

Two minutes later the former Newcastle player kicked down the right. The Saracens wing Noah Cato failed to trap the rolling ball and dashed back to retrieve it, only for Wasps' England wing, Paul Sackey, to charge down his attempted clearance and score. Walder converted again.

That was already enough to win the replacement a nomination by the press box as man of the match, but after two more minutes Walder broke again to send Josh Lewsey over for Wasps' third score. Inevitably, he added the conversion.

Wasps have made a habit of starting slowly – though they have rarely extended that sloth to the extent of this season's six defeats in their first eight matches – before rising up the table and hitting the play-off season with perfect timing. A nine-point gap behind the top four will take some closing over the next 13 matches but Saracens' Australian coach, Eddie Jones, found a cricket analogy to suggest that this might be a turning point: "They were like a batsman who was looking for his timing and not quite hitting the ball in the middle. For 10 minutes they started hitting the ball in the middle."

While the Wasps director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, reckoned his side's first half was as good as anything they had done this season, their timing was still off. Though dominating territorially they did not seriously threaten the Saracens line after the first 30 seconds, in which the scrum-half, Eoin Reddan, broke blind from a scrum and had only to find Sackey for a try to be scored. The pass went behind the wing and the opportunity was lost.

With Cipriani struggling both as playmaker and kicker, missing two comparatively simple penalty chances, Saracens – who had to play with 14 men for 10 minutes after the flanker Wickus van Heerden was sent to the sin-bin – trailed only by 9-6 at the break despite failing to penetrate the Wasps 22 until injury time.

The visitors took control after half-time. Glen Jackson kicked his third penalty, for a break-down offence that earned the Wasps lock Tom Palmer a yellow card, to level the scores five minutes into the half. Unlike their hosts, Saracens made use of their one-man advantage, with a fine try featuring two of their bright young stars. From a scrum on the right they moved rapidly across the field and Jackson looped around the centre Andrew Farrell and brought the 20-year-old England Saxons full-back Alex Goode into the line with perfect timing. Goode, who impressed throughout, found Cato, another 20 year old, who shook off Mitchell and crossed on the left. Jackson missed the conversion but extended Sarries' lead to eight points after another Cato incursion forced Mitchell into conceding a penalty close to the posts.

While Cato was culpable for Wasps' second try, Jones – who said that he could not explain the extraordinary change in momentum and fortunes – was in a forgiving mood: "He's just a kid, he's not been playing rugby very long and this sort of thing happens with kids. But he'll remember this and learn from it, and he's going to be one hell of a player."

That view was underlined in the final minute when Cato surged down the left and comprehensively foxed Cipriani, beating him on the outside to score his second try. Wasps' England flanker Tom Rees had left the field two minutes earlier with what McGeechan confirmed was a badly broken nose.

Wasps: L Mitchell (D Walder, 64); P Sackey, R Hoadley, J Lewsey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan (T Simpson, 66); T Payne (T French, 66), R Webber (J Ward, 66), P Vickery (capt), S Shaw, T Palmer (G Skivington, 68), J Worsley, J Haskell, T Rees (S Betsen, 77).

Saracens: A Goode; K Ratuvou, K Sorrell (A Powell, 52), A Farrell (B Barritt, 64), N Cato; G Jackson, N de Kock (J Rauluni, 64); M Aguero, F Ongaro, C Johnston, S Borthwick (capt), C Jack (H Vyvyan, 18-24 & 64), B Skirving (A Saull, 56), M Owen, W van Heerden

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

Comments