Quins lay down the law to stun Wasps
London Wasps 40 Harlequins 42: Evans' late penalty caps a superb comeback as TV review trial kicks in
The full effect of the new trials and tinkering with the laws was seen in this stunning comeback victory by the champions, Harlequins, and though Wasps were left cursing the heartening derby win that got away, it all proved one immutable rule of sport: the only scoreline that counts is the one at the end.
Nick Evans, the Premiership players' player of last season, whacked over a penalty with four minutes remaining to give Harlequins the lead for the first time in the match as both sides beat the record score (35 by Quins against London Irish in 2007) in a London double header, in its ninth year.
Evans's kick for a wheeled Wasps scrum was the concluding embellishment to a revival that featured four Quins tries in 10 minutes from the 59th to the 68th minute — the first of them a charged down effort by Tom Guest, who had just come as a replacement, punishing Nicky Robinson in the Wasps fly-half's 22.
It was a devastating spell that reminded us of the Harlequins in their play-off final triumph over Leicester here at Twickenham last May; all pace and daring handling and telepathic support. The fact that it overhauled a 27-point lead held by Wasps after their fifth try – scored by the prop Tim Payne on 55 minutes — meant it was a remarkably sanguine Wasps coach Dai Young who said afterwards: "It wasn't a surprise to us. We'd talked at half-time about not switching off and keeping our concentration."
After a summer of takeover negotiations, that are still going on, and rejigging and rehabilitating an injury-ravaged squad who stayed up in the Premiership last season by a tiny margin, perhaps this start was acceptable to Wasps as well as fantastically eventful.
Young's Quins counterpart Conor O'Shea said: "I'd prefer the focus to be on the belief the players showed, and a great game of rugby."
But he knew the major talking point was our first sight of the season-long trial in the Premiership, with the International Rugby Board's blessing, of the referee being able to ask the television match official to review the action back to the last set-piece before a try being scored.
It happened just before half-time, at which point Wasps were sailing along at 28-13 up after their thrillingly quick and alert England Saxons squad wing Christian Wade had scored two tries and rather casually popped the ball in to the hands of his team-mate Tom Varndell for another, with Robinson kicking two conversions and three penalties, while Quins had a try by Tom Williams and eight points from Evans's boot.
The nuts and bolts of it were that a few phases of play after a line-out led to Varndell going over the Quins goalline, emphasising the initial trouble the champions had with defence in the wide channels, and turnovers at the tackle. But the touch judge Paul Dix drew the referee Greg Garner's attention to a possible forward pass from Robinson to the Wasps No.8 Billy Vunipola back on halfway. It added very little to the crowd's understanding to be shown the anxious face of Graham Hughes, the TMO, on the big screens, staring at multiple replays.
Hughes decided the pass was forward — no try. "I am a supporter of the trial," said Young. "Hopefully at some stage we'll get the benefit." If this had been one of the three non-televised matches being played this weekend, Varndell would almost certainly have had his second try awarded and Wasps would have led 35-13 at the break. Players are not allowed to ask the referee for a review but there were moans heard over the referee microphone thereafter that some misdemeanour or other had been missed.
To go to the TMO, or not to go? As O'Shea pointed out, there was a hint of the illegal — confirmed by replays but not subject to a video review — by the back-rower Jonathan Poff in the turnover that gave Wasps their fourth try, by the second row Marco Wentzel, after 46 minutes. Hughes was called upon twice more: allowing Payne's try when it appeared the referee asked the TMO to examine the wrong pass; and giving another thumbs up when Evans brilliantly cross-kicked to Mike Brown for the second of two tries by the full-back.
Evans shrugged off Varndell for Quins' fifth try on 67 minutes and the other Premiership law trial was seen five minutes later: Nic Berry, who had substituted Joe Simpson as Wasps' scrum-half, trudged off to the new five-minute concussion bin, allowing Simpson to return, and stay on, though he would not have been permitted a kick at goal.
"Ding dong," said referee Garner to his timekeeper, to start the clock – or perhaps he was describing the noise being heard between Berry's ears, and the Australian's dizziness was being shared by the entire audience by then.
London Wasps H Southwell (capt); T Varndell, E Daly, A Masi (C Mayor 48), C Wade; N Robinson, J Simpson (N Berry 59); T Payne, T Lindsay (TR Thomas 56), F Staibano (Z Taulafo 69), J Launchbury, M Wentzel, J Haskell (T Palmer 63), B Vunipola, J Poff.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper (R Chisholm 57), J Turner-Hall, G Lowe; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson 57); J Marler, J Gray (R Buchanan 59), J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest 57), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
Referee G Garner (London).
Tries: Wade 2, Varndell, Wentzel, Payne
Cons: Robinson 3
Pens: Robinson 3
Tries: Williams, Guest, Brown 2, Evans
Cons: Evans 4
Pens: Evans 3
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