Little's big moment overhauls Wasps

Saracens 13 - Wasps 11
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The Independent Online

The one thing everyone appears to agree upon is that the season is too long, and Wasps' ability to pace themselves will again be at a premium after the champions displayed their traditional propensity to start like snails.

The one thing everyone appears to agree upon is that the season is too long, and Wasps' ability to pace themselves will again be at a premium after the champions displayed their traditional propensity to start like snails.

The win for Saracens, sealed by a 78th-minute penalty by their replacement fly-half, Nicky Little, was undoubtedly heartening in their perennial search for a backbone. But the outcome of the Premiership can only have been hinted at by this battle for capital gains.

Sir Clive Woodward was here to see the inaugural London Double-Header - an idea transplanted from Australian rugby league - having been invited with his wife to lunch with Malcolm Phillips, the president of the Rugby Football Union. Unlike the RFU's wranglings with Woodward, this impressive occasion appeared to be a win-win for the English game. The RFU will pick up a six-figure sum when they collect their stadium hire fee, calculated at £1 for each of the 51,000 tickets sold, plus the bar, shop and catering takings. On any other September Saturday the stadium would have been shut and not earning a penny. The rest of the revenue is split between the participating clubs.

If anyone should have felt at home it was Lawrence Dallaglio and his Wasps, having played and won the finals of the Heineken Cup and Zurich Premiership at Twickenham in the space of seven days at the back end of last season. Saracens have been uncomfortable playing almost anywhere since the all-too-briefly halcyon days when Messrs Pienaar, Lynagh and Sella helped thrash Wasps in the 1998 cup final.

But in front of what was comfortably a record Premiership attendance, there was a balancing factor: Wasps were without five injured internationals, including the Lions scrum-half Rob Howley. In Howley's place, Matt Dawson made his competitive debut after transferring from Northampton, but he was outshone by his old rival Kyran Bracken, who judged that the best way to unpick Wasps' suffocating defence was to nip inside it at source.

Thomas Castaignède kicked a penalty for Saracens, equalised by Mark van Gisbergen for Wasps, before Bracken's 20-metre scamper away from a ruck made the opening try after 25 minutes. Hugh Vyvyan took the ball on, then Kevin Yates, one of a trio of forwards to follow coach Steve Diamond from Sale, barged past James Haskell to the line.

Castaignède's conversion for 10-3 was straightforward, but the same was true of the try-scoring chance that went begging six minutes before half-time, when the Frenchman failed to finish off a slashing break by Sarries' new Australian No 10, Mark Bartholomeusz.

The interval brought a barrage of changes, including the introduction of Josh Lewsey and Joe Worsley for Wasps, and the withdrawal of Richard Hill for Saracens. It looked like a net gain for the champions.

After 47 minutes, a yellow blur comprising Alex King, Tom Voyce and Ben Gotting overwhelmed Saracens and sent the centre Ayoola Erinle in at the left corner.

When King, another of the 40-minute brigade, put Wasps ahead with a penalty from 30 metres on the diagonal, Saracens had to gather themselves afresh in the strength-sapping heat. They did so to earn two penalties in goal-kicking range. Little's first effort fell just short; the Fijian's second crept over the bar in something like slow motion. Even so, Wasps will not be panicking just yet.

Saracens: R Kydd; R Haughton, T Castaignède (P Bailey, 40), K Sorrell, D Scarbrough; M Bartholomeusz (N Little, 66), K Bracken (M Williams, 71); K Yates, M Cairns (R Ibañez, 66), C Visagie, S Raiwalui (K Chesney, 66), I Fullarton, T Randell, H Vyvyan (capt), R Hill (D Seymour, 40).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; M Priscott (J Lewsey, 40), A Erinle, P Richards, T Voyce; J Brooks (A King, 40), M Dawson; T Payne (A McKenzie, 30), B Gotting, W Green, G Skivington, R Birkett, J Haskell (J Worsley, 40), L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor (M Lock, 72).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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