Rees rampage ended by injury

Wasps 29 Leicester 29
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The Independent Online

In the end, perhaps inevitably, the league points were also shared, two goals and five penalties apiece. The goal-kicking of Mark van Gisbergen, the Wasps full-back, and Andy Goode, the Leicester stand-off, was predictable enough but there was a stand-out performance here that was startling for its aggression, pace and power.

Tom Rees scored two memorable tries, came close to a third and might have won the match for Wasps but for suffering a serious leg injury early in the second half. Last night he went to hospital for a scan and Ian McGeechan, the Wasps coach, feared that the young flanker might have broken his right leg. Nothing less would have stopped him.

"He reminds me a bit of the England flanker Richard Hill," McGeechan said, which is praise indeed. Rees, who celebrates his 21st birthday today (probably in a sitting position) was perpetual motion yesterday until, after another characteristic surge, he emerged a picture of agony, clutching his right leg seven minutes into the second half. A member of the National Academy, he looks a certainty for the senior England back row, providing he remains fit. A product of the Basingstoke club, he is the best thing to come out of Hampshire since John Arlott.

Rees's first try arrived in the fifth minute following a promising threequarter attack down the left flank. When that was halted inside the Leicester 22, the ball was recycled to midfield where Rees, surrounded by Tigers, made light of the claustrophobic attention.

He made a beeline for the posts and somehow made it, beating two thirds of the Leicester front row in the process. En route to the line Rees's nose touched the turf but he managed to regain his balance. Dynamic stuff.

He produced an even more impressive sequel in the 29th minute when Geordan Murphy slipped while fielding a high ball from Alex King, conceded possession and when Rees took a pass he had men spare on his left. Who needs them? Tucking the ball under an arm this time he smashed his way through three defenders for another remarkable try.

Rees's second piledriver gave Wasps a 23-16 lead but, befitting the style of this extraordinary contest, nobody was allowed to build on a lead. Leicester couldn't believe their luck when a Richard Birkett tap from a line-out eluded everybody but Harry Ellis. From about 35 yards the scrum-half's kick on was inch perfect and as the ball rolled over the line he was able to resist the pace of Paul Sackey and dive for the touchdown.

At half-time, with the score 23-23, Leicester might have felt that the rugby gods were on their side. After 27 minutes Shane Jennings, their Irish flanker, received a yellow card for lying with intent on the wrong side of a ruck and Van Gisbergen landed the resultant penalty. Even so, while Jennings was in the cooler the Tigers scored 10 points to seven.

What is it about Leicester flankers? Last week Lewis Moody, one of the few players to emerge from the Lions tour with his reputation intact, was banned by his club for a month. Two minutes after coming on in a second XV match against Leeds, Moody thumped Jordan Crane, the England Under-19 captain. To make matters worse it was off the ball. Next week Moody could find his punishment increased by an Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee.

Leicester had already capitalised on another piece of good fortune when, trailing 7-3, Tom Varndell, another young player with huge potential, intercepted a pass by King that was meant for Stuart Abbott but bounced in no man's land. Varndell ran 50 yards for a try. He may as well have been on a training run.

Wasps, when they weren't throwing away promising attacking situations, always looked slightly the more inventive and dangerous, particularly when Rees was on the rampage. But in the end it was the goal-kicking of Van Gisbergen and Goode that cancelled everything out and resulted, perhaps inevitably, in the tie.

Leicester, who got the better of Wasps in the Heineken Cup last season but were badly beaten in the final at Twickenham for the Premiership title, made two late changes. Sam Vesty and Dan Hipkiss failed fitness tests and were replaced by the Irish international Murphy and the former All Black Daryl Gibson. Talk about strength in depth.

The high scoring nature of this match was scuppered in the second half when High Wycombe was hit by a storm and handling, in particular, became a treacherous business. No tries in the second half but plenty of spills. Van Gisbergen and Goode added two penalties each, the latter again levelling the scores five minutes from the end of normal time.

Goode, whose goal-kicking was about 100 per cent better than it had been in the demolition of Northampton a week earlier, had a chance to win it in the 86th minute but his drop goal attempt from close range shaved the right-hand upright. Some Leicester players raised their hands but the referee Dave Pearson was perfectly placed. If any match was destined to end in a draw, this was it.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, F Waters, S Abbott (R Hoadley, 78), T Voyce; A King, E Reddan (M Dawson, 52); T Payne, R Ibañez (B Gotting, 55), J Dawson (P Bracken, 48), S Shaw (M Lock, 71), R Birkett, T Rees (J Hart, 47), J Worsley (capt), J O'Connor.

Leicester: G Murphy (A Healey, 70); A Tuilagi, L Lloyd, D Gibson (M Cornwell, 77), T Varndell; A Goode, H Ellis; M Holford, G Chuter, A Moreno (J White, 40), L Cullen (L Deacon, 50), B Kay, B Deacon (L Abraham, 66), M Corry (capt), S Jennings.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).