King return fuels Wasps rampage

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The only people losing sleep in Biarritz this week will be the poor souls who operate the scoreboard at Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, for if Northampton launch the defence of their Heineken Cup title with a performance along the lines of yesterday's in west London, the French staff will not have a baguette's chance in hell of keeping up with events. Pat Lam's side looked so horribly out of sorts as Wasps ran riot at Loftus Road that the immediate prospect of a long weekend in Serge Blanco country must fill them with abject terror.

The only people losing sleep in Biarritz this week will be the poor souls who operate the scoreboard at Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, for if Northampton launch the defence of their Heineken Cup title with a performance along the lines of yesterday's in west London, the French staff will not have a baguette's chance in hell of keeping up with events. Pat Lam's side looked so horribly out of sorts as Wasps ran riot at Loftus Road that the immediate prospect of a long weekend in Serge Blanco country must fill them with abject terror.

When the musical contingent among the Wasps faithful serenaded their visitors with the theme tune from Steptoe and Son, they could not have known that the Saints would produce enough old rubbish to cover the whole of Shepherd's Bush. True, they were weakened at outside-half and inside centre - Alex King, finally back in harness for the home side, was given the run of the park - but that did not explain how a pack boasting six internationals and two more on the bench could be blown away in all directions.

"If you travel a couple of degrees below your best, you're going to get beaten," said the Wasps coach, Nigel Melville, as he attempted to shed some light on a bizarrely one-sided contest. What he was too diplomatic to say was that Northampton were way off the bottom of the thermometer. Wasps jogged merrily along at a point a minute for the opening quarter of an hour, wrapped up a bonus for their fourth try well before the 60-minute mark and finished with a flurry of 19 points in the closing 20. To King, such a masterful organiser of a game, it must have felt like a run-out with Old Rubberduckians Extra Thirds.

On this evidence, the Londoners will enjoy Europe rather more than the side that removed them, somewhat controversially, from the Heineken Cup at last season's quarter-final stage. When they click, Wasps are among the quickest and most direct sides in England: they have class footballers in all three rows of the scrum, a "nice cop, nasty cop" act at half-back and a pair of centres who bring light and shade to the midfield proceedings. What is more, they have real pace at full-back. Officer cadet Josh Lewsey, drawing on the unforgiving fitness regime in vogue among Sandhurst types, was at his zippiest yesterday.

John Steele, the Northampton coach, was characteristically bullshine-free in his appraisal of a hugely exasperating afternoon. "We had two very young, inexperienced players at 10 and 12 - Mark Tucker isn't a stand-off, but we've asked him to play there two weeks in succession, while Tom Kirk was making his first Premiership start in a Saints shirt - and while they're highly talented people and they did some things very well out there, they have to learn quickly in this sort of intense environment. What disappoints me is that our work-rate was poor, especially in the first-half. I can understand us losing some shape with players missing, but there's no excuse for low work-rate."

There could be no such condemnation of the Wasps forwards; Paul Volley, in particular, made a real mess of the opposition from his berth on the open-side flank. But the pack's piÿce de résistance involved three tight forwards - Simon Shaw, Will Green and Andy Reed - who produced a very passable impersonation of Barry John, Mike Gibson and John Dawes in the build-up to Reed's try on 55 minutes. They should, of course, be suspended for having ideas above their station, but when the opposition fail to turn up, you can get away with these things.

Wasps: Tries King 2, Dallaglio, Volley, Lewsey, Reed, Leota; Conversions Logan 3; Penalties Logan 4. Northampton: Tries Penalty try, Martin; Conversions Tucker 2; Penalty Tucker.

Wasps: J Lewsey; S Roiser, M Denney, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy (A Le Chevalier, 71), T Leota, W Green, A Reed, S Shaw (J Beardshaw, 62), J Worsley, P Volley, L Dallaglio (capt).

Northampton: S Webster; L Martin, A Bateman, T Kirk, B Cohen; M Tucker, D Malone (J Bramhall, 67); G Pagel, S Brotherstone (S Thompson, 67), M Stewart (M Scelzo, 46), J Phillips, O Brouzet (T Rodber, 54), R Hunter (G Seely, 56), A Pountney, P Lam (capt).

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

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