Waldouck drops England hint in glittering cameo

Worcester 20 Wasps 24
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The Independent Online

The England coaches move in mysterious ways, their failures to perform. They drop Lewis Moody one week, then make him captain the next; they address the desperate scrummaging problems on the loose-head side of their front row by ignoring David Flatman, the best loose-head scrummager in the country; they stick with Delon Armitage at full-back, even though he is so far out of form it takes a telescope to locate him; they pick a piano-shifter like Ayoola Erinle in the piano player's position of inside centre, presumably because Mike Tyson is unavailable. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Which brings us to the peculiar case of Dominic Waldouck, who, according to the selectors, does not possess the 'X-factor'. In the space of half-an-hour at Sixways on Saturday, the centre attached so many Xs to his performance that small children were being escorted from the stadium. It seemed impossible not to notice, but then, maybe this is what we expect from a Leicester-dominated management team: a 25-letter alphabet.

"I reckon he's due a chance," said Tony Hanks, speaking in his dual role of Wasps director of rugby and master of understatement. "He does it all: he passes, he kicks, he tackles, he makes breaks. He was outstanding while he was out there, and when we lost him – he turned an ankle scoring the first try, took a bang on the head and was pretty much battered all over – we also lost some of our shape, both in attack and defence. Don't get me wrong: this is the first time we've won a league game at Worcester, so we're more than happy with the four points. But if there's a down side, Dom took the bonus point with him when he left the field."

His premature departure was indeed exasperating: Not only for Wasps, although their failure to complete the afternoon's task by scoring a fourth try may well cost them a place in the end-of-season play-offs, but for all those in a 10,000-strong crowd with the slightest sense of rugby's greater good. Twenty-eight minutes is not a long time in which to score two five-pointers and manufacture a third, but Waldouck did all this and more in a free-running display that must, at the very least, have secured him an England tour spot to Australia and New Zealand in June.

Together with Danny Cipriani and Shane Geraghty, among others, he was a member of the National Academy set up by Brian Ashton during the build-up to the 2003 World Cup. Together with Cipriani and Geraghty, he has failed to make the impact at international level that seemed inevitable during their spell of sporting enrichment at Bath University. Is this coincidence, or does it tell a tale? The rugby philosophy at the academy was very different to that at the heart of the current England set-up and it is now obvious that some of the most gifted young players in the country have fallen into the chasm separating the two.

One of the condemnations of Waldouck is purely sizeist: he is, say his critics, too small and underpowered at 5ft 11ins and 14st 7lbs. They might be interested to know that on the far side of the Irish Sea, a chap constructed along similar lines plays this hard old game with a fair degree of success. His name? That's right. O'Driscoll. The Dubliner is miles stronger than Waldouck – pound for pound, he is miles stronger than everyone – but there are hints of the young O'Driscoll's footwork, timing and opportunism in the Englishman's armoury.

Not that Waldouck needed all those weapons working at optimum force to breeze through a powder-puff Worcester defence in the early stages of Saturday's game: indeed, Wasps scored 21 points with barely a tackle being made. But once the centre limped away, the home side found it far easier to man the barricades – a clear indication of their relief at seeing the back of him. For the last 50 minutes, there was little to separate the teams.

"If there was a league table for passion, desire and commitment, we'd be at the top," said Mike Ruddock, the Worcester boss, after watching another match slip away with nothing but a losing bonus to show for his week's preparation. "We played one of the best sides in Europe – a team with bags of pace and ability, a team just hitting their stride on surfaces that are beginning to suit them. And for most of the game, we went toe to toe. It makes you wonder why we are where we are at the bottom of the heap."

They are where they are because they create too few scoring chances and butcher too many of the handful on offer. Sam Tuitupou, the All Black centre whose magnificent contribution here made it a golden afternoon for connoisseurs of midfield play, fumbled the ball on the Wasps line a few seconds before the interval – an error that preserved an eight-point gap between the sides that should have been reduced to one. If Worcester are as profligate against Leeds at Headingley this coming Sunday, relegation will be confirmed a weekend early.

Ruddock summoned Tuitupou from the field nine minutes from the end of normal time for precautionary reasons. "He hasn't played much recently, he was beginning to feel it and if I'd left him on, he might have injured himself again," explained the Welshman, who had already lost his captain, Pat Sanderson, to a strange and undiagnosed problem affecting the left side of his body from shoulder to hip. Worcester will need both men in full warpaint in Yorkshire. This is where the medics earn their money.

Scorers: Worcester Tries: Sanderson, Grove. Conversions: Walker 2. Penalties: Walker 2. Wasps Tries: Waldouck 2, Rees. Conversions: Cipriani 3. Penalty: Cipriani.

Worcester: C Latham; M Garvey, D Rasmussen (A Grove 29), S Tuitupou (M Jones 71), C Pennell; W Walker, J Arr (R Powell 79); A Black (C Black h-t), A Lutui (C Fortey 64), T Taumoepeau (O Sourgens 59), G Rawlinson (C Gillies 67), G Kitchener, K Horstmann, P Sanderson (capt, C Cracknell 56), N Talei.

Wasps: B Jacobs; P Sackey, D Waldouck (M Van Gisbergen 28), S Kefu, T Varndell; D Cipriani (D Walder 71), J Simpson; S Taulafo (T Payne 62), R Webber, B Broster (P Vickery 55), S Shaw (J Worsley 55), G Skivington, J Hart (S Betsen 64), T Rees (capt), D Ward-Smith.

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).