Saracens 19 Wasps 21: Erinle blasts a way through the rubble

Subtlety in short supply as Saracens succumb
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The Independent Online

The full complement of England's coaching team plus a few eminent injured international players congregated in the expensive seats above the tunnel at Twickenham. It was a considerable brains trust, but this second part of the London double-header was much more about the application of brawn.

Give or take a few flashes of élan from the Saracens backs England's troubled head coach, Andy Robinson, and his three assistants - John Wells, Brian Ashton and Mike Ford - could not have been immediately reassured that an oasis of subtle skill and intelligent interplay was opening up before them. Big hits and bigger bruises were de rigueur.

It must be noted that a horribly blustery wind gusting down from the turrets of the half-built South Stand made long passing and accurate kicking difficult.

The Wasps flanker Tom Rees epitomised the scene. A hugely promising openside, for whom last season was ruined by injury, he was out to impress the cognoscenti, but his lighter touches in the loose were buried by the heavy mob of muscled-up opponents and team-mates alike. A giant plastic bag blew down the pitch during the second half. It was a surprise someone didn't tackle it.

Wasps had Josh Lewsey, who is said to crave selection in a single position with club and country, on the left wing. His thunder was stolen, however, by Ayoola Erinle. On as an early substitute for Fraser Waters, Erinle crashed past Saracens' Alan Dickens and Dave Seymour for the first try of the match after nine minutes. Dave Walder, released by Newcastle in the summer, converted. Walder's new start at fly-half was eased by his pack having an obvious nudge on Saracens at the scrum.

The mid-section of the first half was a riot of tit-for-tat scoring. Ben Johnston went over at the posts for Saracens on the end of Glen Jackson's pass after the Kiwi fly-half deceived Walder with a dummy. Jackson then kicked two penalties, one of them from the halfway line, either side of one for Walder, who had already missed twice.

When Saracens lost their loosehead prop Kevin Yates, sent to the sin-bin for stamping after 28 minutes, it was costly. In his absence Wasps got back in front, 15-13, with Tom Palmer, late of Leeds, winning a line-out then rejoining a galloping drive led by his captain, Raphael Ibañez, to finish off the try. A chastened Yates trotted back on and pretty soon after that Wasps' Samoan No 8 Dan Leo trotted off for 10 minutes. Leo's spectacularly mistimed midair challenge on Richard Haughton as the Saracens wing pursued a kick resembled something from WWE wrestling, except that Haughton was genuinely hurt as his head connected with Leo's hipbone and needed a couple of minutes to get to his feet.

Who knows what an illustrious quartet of injured thirty-somethings might have added to the mix. Wasps' Lawrence Dallaglio and Thomas Castaignède, Richard Hill and Andy Farrell of Saracens were in various states of disrepair, Castaignède having been laid low by an oxymoronic fitness session with France. The date for Farrell's long-awaited rugby union debut is not yet set, although it may be tomorrow week in an A League match.

Jackson kicked a penalty just before half-time and another with 50 minutes gone for Saracens to lead 20-15. But Walder overhauled that with penalties in the 63rd and 65th minutes, and no amount of high-quality huff and puff from Seymour, Saracens' counterpart to Rees, could change the result. Saracens had to settle for a losers' bonus point.

Saracens: D Scarbrough; R Haughton (R Penney, 62), K Sorrell, B Johnston, T de Vedia; G Jackson, A Dickens; K Yates, F Ongaro (S Byrne, 58), C Visagie, T Ryder, S Raiwalui (capt), P Gustard (K Chesney, 65), H Vyvyan, D Seymour.

Wasps: T Voyce; P Sackey, F Waters (A Erinle, 6), R Hoadley (J Staunton, 40), J Lewsey; D Walder, S Amor (E Reddan, 55); T Payne, R Ibañez (capt), P Bracken, S Shaw, T Palmer, J Worsley, D Leo, T Rees (J Hart, 56).

Referee: R Maybank (London).