King reigns as limp Biarritz miss chance for a coup

Wasps 25 - Biarritz 12

Serge Blanco did not merely play for Biarritz, he mesmerised for them. As he watched the keepers of the flame open their Heineken Cup challenge in High Wycombe yesterday, the finest French full-back of them all must have mourned the fading of the stardust.

Serge Blanco did not merely play for Biarritz, he mesmerised for them. As he watched the keepers of the flame open their Heineken Cup challenge in High Wycombe yesterday, the finest French full-back of them all must have mourned the fading of the stardust. Had they shown the slightest ambition or summoned even a hint of attacking joie de vivre, the Basques might have beaten the reigning champions. Instead, they strapped themselves into a straitjacket of their own making and rolled around Buckinghamshire's green acres like 15 fools on the blasted heath.

Nicolas Brusque, Jimmy Marlu, Damien Traille, Dimitri Yachvili... these people operate at the cutting edge of the world game. They are blessed with vivid imaginations as well as faultless techniques, an instinctive appreciation of rugby's possibilities as well as a highly developed tactical awareness. Yet they closed their minds to those possibilities here, and crumbled to dust as a result. If they fail to beat Leicester on the Atlantic coast this weekend, they can blow a farewell kiss to their European campaign.

"Beat Leicester? To do that, we will have to play very differently," said Patrice Lagisquet, the Biarritz coach. His final two words were utterly superfluous. For some reason known only to themselves, Lagisquet's team did not play at all.

"As far as we are concerned, it's a question of 'thanks very much'," commented Lagisquet's opposite number, Warren Gatland. "I can't remember their wings getting the ball, or them going through any phases. They just kicked. Why? Don't ask me. I felt that in the end we won comfortably, even if it was an ugly win, but the result was more important than anything else."

Of course, the kicking game is a major component of modern-day rugby, and rugby doesn't get any more modern than in this most boundary-stretching of tournaments. In Brusque, Traille, Yachvili and Philippe Bidabe, the visitors fielded a quartet of backs capable of hoofing the ball from backside to breakfast-time.

Yet Biarritz could not even get that bit right. Having crossed the Channel with the clear intention of booting the leather off the ball, they over-booted it so often that Wasps were repeatedly presented with attacking platforms deep in opposition territory.

That the holders scored only one try as a result of this lavish generosity said as much about them as about Biarritz. Wasps were almost terminally butterfingered in the first half, none more so than Josh Lewsey on the wing, and seemed there for the taking. Even when the Frenchmen gave up rugby entirely after the interval, the home side needed the best part of an hour to sneak ahead. But once Alex King, the one truly persuasive figure on display, had hit the spot with a second drop goal on 54 minutes, the contest was in dead-and-buried territory.

King is some player these days - tough and confident and ruthless, all the things Sir Clive Woodward thought he wasn't during the build-up to last year's World Cup. "I've seen a total transformation in character over three years," said Shaun Edwards, the specialist defensive coach whose contribution to Wasps' golden run has been nothing short of immense. "Alex used to go around with his head down; now, he walks about the place like Napoleon. He's grumpy, he screams and shouts, he makes people scared of him. He's in a leadership role, and that is exactly what you need from a leader. Rob Howley" - Wasps' injured Lions scrum-half - "says that Alex as we know him now is the best leader of any outside-half he has partnered."

Leadership is primarily about the establishment of standards and the setting of examples, and King pressed all the right buttons yesterday. If his passing was a characteristic mix of the very good and the sublime, and his tactical kicking the usual model of common sense, his physical approach to life in the heavy traffic was revelatory in the extreme.

He snuffed out one of only two serious attacks by Biarritz with a top-shelf tackle on Julien Peyrelongue - the visitors had to settle for a drop goal by Traille, rather than a full seven-pointer - and then dumped the Argentinian centre Federico Martin Arramburu flat on his derriere to set up the one try of the contest.

Not only did King bury his rival, he stripped the ball from his arms to put his side in turnover heaven. Both Craig Dowd, back between the shafts after a long injury lay-off, and Ayoola Erinle ploughed upfield, Mark van Gisbergen stretched the Biarritz defence to snapping point with a cultured step off the left wing, and when the Wasps forwards produced quick ball from a ruck close to the goal-line, Joe Worsley dipped his substantial shoulder and finished the job.

Biarritz were not helped by the fact that Serge Betsen, their totemic loose forward, was cooling his fevered brow in the sin-bin, having been dispatched there by the Irish referee, Allan Lewis, who wrongly decided that the flanker had illegally spirited away some prime Wasps possession on the floor. It was not the only decision that left the visitors feeling aggrieved. For all their conservatism, the Frenchmen would have scored an opening try through Marlu had Lewis not pulled them back for obstruction.

But it was difficult to sympathise with a wonderfully gifted side who consciously chose not to indulge their talents, or even recognise their existence. Biarritz left England with precisely what they deserved. A big fat zero.

Wasps: Try Worsley; Conversion Van Gisbergen; Penalties Van Gisbergen 4; Drop goals King 2. Biarritz: Penalties Yachvili 3; Drop goal Traille.

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, P Richards (F Waters, 81), A Erinle, T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 81), M Dawson; T Payne, P Greening, W Green (C Dowd, 46), J Hart, R Birkett, J Worsley, J O'Connor, L Dallaglio (capt).

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe, F Martin Arramburu, D Traille, J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan, B August, D Avril (B Lecouls, 67), J Thion (capt), O Booyse, S Betsen, S Malonga (C Milheres, 57), I Harinordoquy.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks