London Irish 19 Wasps 35: Worsley's return adds momentum to Wasps' ruthless ascent

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The Independent Online

The sting was in the tail end of the year for London Irish as a superior Wasps side swarmed to the top of the Guinness Premiership with a tough and ruthless performance.

An ability to break first-up tackles and breach the gain line before off-loading, backed up by clinical finishing, left the Exiles floundering in Wasps' wake.

It was not that London Irish were bad, rather that Wasps were very good, a fact that Brian Smith, the Exiles' director of rugby, acknowledged. "We came up short today, we were just outmuscled. They slowed our ball down in the tackle area very well and their defence was outstanding."

What was remarkable was that Wasps achieved a bonus-point victory seemingly without winning a line-out.

Time and again Irish lock Nick Kennedy, and later on Bob Casey, stole crucial Wasps ball. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Exiles' impressive outside-half Ross Laidlaw, Irish did not have the powerful runners who were such a telling feature of Wasps' attack, to make the most of all their pilfered possession.

Laidlaw, 22, was making his club debut and looks a real prospect. He was strong in the tackle, always seeming to make the ball available. As for his option-taking, it was poised and polished. A miss-pass here, a darting, driving break there; now a long crossfield touch-finder, then a delicate chip or wicked grubber.

Outside him he had help from Mike Catt, until the former England player left the field. Catt had an unhappy match, taking a whack on the forehead, then, more worryingly, midway through the second half, he left the field with blood streaming from a cut eye. After hospital treatment he was sent home, having suffered a muscle tear to one side of the eye, which might sideline him for a couple of weeks.

One man who has missed more than his fair share of games this season was Wasps' Joe Worsley. This was his first Premiership match since early October, which he marked with one of Wasps' four tries. "After 11 weeks out you lose that edge in speed and power when you have been out for some time. I need a run of games now to regain my England place." But he is just as keen to see another of Wasps' try-scorers Josh Lewsey, who has moved to outside centre, involved in the Six Nations.

"I think Josh's move has paid off. He's playing out of his skin." He also thinks Lawrence Dallaglio could be back in the England fold. "If he is playing well, they will pick him. It's taken him time to get over his injury, but he has begun to look more like his old self."