Dallaglio's return the silver lining for Wasps

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The Independent Online

At the end of a week when so many thoroughbreds failed, Lawrence Dallaglio returned to the fray in such fine fettle that he looked as if he could have given Best Mate a furlong start and still come up the Cheltenham hill in front.

Well before his appearance in the 54th minute of a compelling contest, Dallaglio was champing at the bit, pacing the touchline in front of the dugout, eager to end his nine-month recovery from a cruciate-ligament injury to his right leg, which brought about a premature end to his Lions tour to Australia nine months ago.

While he has only recently taken part in any hard contact work, Dallaglio has trained with England throughout their Six Nations' preparations, and it would be no surprise if Clive Woodward recalled him to the squad for the Italy game in Rome on 7 April.

"At the moment, I'm not looking further than the end of the season," Dallaglio said. "I'm just pleased to be back playing. First of all, I want to help Wasps get away from the wrong end of the table, and maybe qualify for the play-offs. Getting selected for England is out of my hands, though if the tour to the South Pacific this summer goes ahead, I'd like to be a part of it. Having played so little rugby, at least I'll be fresh."

It was the intention of the new coach, Warren Gatland, to bring Dallaglio on when there was no pressure. Given that the game was played in a pressure-cooker atmosphere that was always going to be a difficult shout. But when Dallaglio replaced Mark Lock in the 54th minute of a cracking match, Wasps had regained the lead for the second time, when Alex King dropped a goal to make it 20-22.

King's influence on the game had, until then, bettered Charlie Hodgson's. King's two penalties early in the first half, and two more to close it, plus the conversion of Fraser Waters' try gave Wasps a 19-13 lead at the break. Though the last word was Hodgson's. Fully recovered from the ankle injury which kept him off the England bench in Paris, Hodgson handed Sale an early advantage with two penalties and the conversion of Mark Cueto's try; taken when Hodgson handed him the scoring pass out of the tackle.

In a rumbustious finale, Hodgson converted Anthony Elliott's match-winning try, to leave Dallaglio remembering his comeback, though far from celebrating it.

Sale: Tries Turner, Elliott, Cueto; Conversions Hodgson 3; Penalties Hodgson 2. Wasps: Try Waters; Conversion King; Penalties King 4; Drop Goal King.

Sale: J Robinson (V Going, 53); M Cueto, M Deane, D Harris (S Hanley, 68), A Elliott; C Hodgson, B Redpath (capt); K Yates, A Titterrell (C Marais, 62), S Turner, I Fullarton, S Lines, C Jones, S Pinkerton, A Perelini (R Wilks 14-24; 61).

Wasps: P Sampson; M Offiah (J Barrett, 78), F Waters, M Denney (capt), J Rudd (S Abbott, 61); A King, M Wood; A McKenzie, T Leota, W Green, S Shaw, I Jones (J Beardshaw, 53), M Lock (L Dallaglio, 53), P Volley, J Worsley.

Referee: D Pearson (Ashington, Northumberland).

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