Few thrills but tills keep ringing at double-header

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The Independent Online

The double-header has been so successful in its three-year existence as a curtain-raiser for the season that there are plans to double it.

The four London clubs who took part in Saturday's record-breaking Premiership showcase at Twickenham are expected to walk away with a minimum of £100,000 each. And the record attendance of 51,960 - breaking the inaugural year's record of 51,000 in 2004 and easily surpassing last season's 35,000, when Leeds filled in for the relegated Harlequins - has prompted thoughts of expanding the idea to other parts of the country.

John Varney, the commercial director of Premier Rugby Limited, which represents the 12 Premiership clubs, said: "The double-header has become part of our season now. It is a great launch platform as well.

"That has really got us thinking about the potential of taking Bath, Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester down to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

"Staging a London double-header and a West Country double-header on day one of the new season is certainly something we are looking at. But it has to be very much bought into by the clubs. It is a big thing giving up a home game as well."

The pity of it was that the sense of occasion was not more in evidence on the pitch. "Ring rusty," was the verdict of Brian Smith, the London Irish director of rugby. His team had just beaten the newly promoted Harlequins 20-19 in the first game. Dean Richards, Smith's opposite number, said: "The boys are bitterly disappointed. Our performance was not up to the standard that we expected from ourselves. The players are annoyed with themselves."

It was a lacklustre match, in fact it was a lacklustre afternoon, because the second match was little better, despite the winning margin being double that of the first game.

Wasps' head man, Ian McGeechan, was still happy after his team's 21-19 victory over the "home" team, Saracens, even if they scored only two tries.

"Our pack was outstanding," the former Scotland and Lions coach said. "They gave us the platform to control the game."

Dave Walder, their signing from Newcastle, ensured field position with a stunning display at stand-off, but Wasps lost the services of Fraser Waters. The England centre left the field in the sixth minute with a cut over his eye, but while he was being treated it was discovered he had taken a knock on the shoulder and he did not return.

Saracens at least have something to look forward to - the long-awaited debut of their former Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell, although it looks to have been put back a further week. Alan Gaffney, Saracens' director of rugby, admitted as much, hinting that Farrell's debut would be in a second XV match in any case.

"Andy will play next week, or the week after," Gaffney said. "We are not sure. But it will probably be in the A team, and it definitely won't be this Monday night.

"He has only been in full contact sessions for the last week-and-a-half and although he has suffered no ill-effects at all, after two years out of the game I just think a week-and-a-half of full contact makes it a tough ask to put him straight into the first XV."

Gaffney added that the France full-back Thomas Castaignède was likely to return in the middle of this month.

The introduction of both can only be a good thing for Saracens, who lacked the finishing skills which could well have won them the match. They certainly seemed to lose their focus, not unlike Harlequins against the Irish earlier in the afternoon.

But the "newcomers" will not take long to bed down and when they do Quins will certainly pose serious problems for everyone, home and away, with their solid scrum, potent line-out and well-organised driving maul and a young fly-half, Adrian Jarvis, who will be worth watching this season.

Irish need to rediscover their finishing powers. "We are a side that wants to score tries," said Smith, reluctantly accepting that his fly-half Riki Flutey's sessions with the discarded England kicking coach Dave Alred had paid dividends with 15 of their points.

But for winners and losers there were far more reasons to be cheerful than gloomy. The winners of the two matches just need to do so with a touch more panache; the losers have to apply themselves in a more disciplined way.

Twickenham details

London Irish 20 Harlequins 19

London Irish: Try Ojo; Penalties Flutey 4; Drop goal Flutey.

Harlequins: Try Jones; Conversion Jarvis; Penalties Jarvis 4.

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, D Fea'unati, M Catt (capt; B Everitt, 72); S Tagicakibau; R Flutey, P Hodgson; T Lea'aetoa (N Hatley, 57), D Coetzee, (R Russell, 45), R Skuse (D Fitter, 57), N Kennedy, B Casey, K Roche, O Magne (D Danaher, 76), J-M Leguizamon (P Murphy, 57).

Harlequins: M Brown; G Harder, (S Keogh, 72), H Luscombe, S Abbott, U Monye; A Jarvis, S So'oialo; C Jones, J Hayter, (J Richards, 61), R Nebbett (M Ross, 72), N Spanghèro (J Evans, 61), S Miall, A Vos, P Volley (capt), N Easter (W Skinner, 64).

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).

Saracens 19 Wasps 21

Saracens: Try Johnston; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 4.

Wasps: Tries Erinle, Palmer; Conversion Walder; Penalties Walder 3.

Saracens: D Scarbrough; T de Vedia, K Sorrell, B Johnston, R Haughton (R Penney, 62); G Jackson, A Dickens; K Yates, F Ongaro, (S Byrne, 58), C Visagie, T Ryder, S Raiwalui (capt), P Gustard (K Chesney, 65), D Seymour, H Vyvyan.

Wasps: T Voyce; P Sackey, F Waters (A Erinle, 6), R Hoadley (J Staunton, 40), J Lewsey; D Walder, S Amor (E Reddan, 56); T Payne, R Ibañez (capt), P Bracken, S Shaw, T Palmer, J Worsley, T Rees (J Hart, 57), D Leo.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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