Perpignan 19 Wasps 12: Lewsey injury deepens English gloom in build-up to All Blacks

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The Independent Online

As Lawrence Dallaglio was quick to point out, results may yet prove otherwise but there is a whiff of decay in English rugby which an impending joust with the All Blacks is hardly likely to dispel. Wasps were desperately undercooked in 28-degree heat close to the Mediterranean and, by their own admission, are way off the peak of yeoman power with which they won the Heineken Cup in 2004.

Dallaglio's captaincy has long been an inspiration but since having a plate removed from his ankle he has not presented a convincing case for a place in Wasps' team, let alone England's. For the four Wasps who were waiting on today's announcement of the England line-up to face New Zealand on Sunday, there was mixed news.

Josh Lewsey left the ground with his right leg in a brace amid fears of a medial ligament strain which would raise doubts over his participation in any of the four autumn Tests. Paul Sackey had one of those matches when the only way a wing can see the ball is to leave his station, Tom Palmer toiled away sweatily in the second row and Tom Rees, the flanker, was hampered by a shoulder problem.

"There's nothing wrong structurally," Rees reported afterwards, referring to the joint in question rather than the English game in general.

This was a stilted Wasps effort. They had some success in bringing Sackey and Tom Voyce into midfield only for team-mates to spill the ball. Perpignan drove their lock Colin Gaston over for a third-minute try, converted by their South African fly-half Steve Meyer, and held the same seven-point advantage at the end.

That gave Wasps a losing bonus point, which may be of considerable value when Pool One concludes in January. "We haven't played anywhere near our best in this competition yet but we're not going to be down about it," Dallaglio said. "I know everyone is pointing the finger at English clubs and we're coming under a bit of pressure with the results. The proof will be what happens at the end of the competition. Ultimately, the English record in Europe speaks for itself."

So too, however, does the worrying tendency of late to dash headlong up blind alleys; a style which will not unlock the defences of the likes of the All Blacks. "We played poorly and we turned over so much ball," said Lewsey, who twisted his knee in a tackle after moving from centre to full-back to cover for another crock, Mark van Gisbergen. "We certainly need to raise our game by about 40 per cent to have aspirations of winning any trophies."

Wasps' fly-half, Jeremy Staunton, kicked three penalties in the first half - matched by Meyer - and the only scores of a wretchedly stop-start second period were a penalty apiece by two replacements, Nicolas Laharrague and Alex King.

A rare note of optimism was sounded by a player who did not even take part. The Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater said he was likely to be fit from an ankle injury if required by England.

Perpignan: Try Gaston; Conversion Meyer; Penalties Meyer 3, N Laharrague. Wasps: Penalties Staunton 3, King.

Perpignan: J Laharrague; A Snyman, D Marty, G Hume (J-P Grandclaude, 70), S Dawai Naulu; S Meyer (N Laharrague, 62), N Durand; S Chobet (S Bozzi, 69), M Konieck (G Guirado, 57), N Mas, C Gaston, N Hines (capt), G le Corvec (G Bortolaso, 80), R Alvarez Kairelis, O Tonita (V Vaki, 66).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen (A Erinle, 39); P Sackey, J Lewsey (A King, 51), F Waters, T Voyce; J Staunton, E Reddan (S Amor, 80); T Payne (P Bracken, 74), J Ward (J Barrett, 74), P Vickery, S Shaw, T Palmer, J Worsley (G Skivington, 49), L Dallaglio (capt; J Haskell, 74), T Rees.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).