Shaw to the fore as Wasps state case for title defence

Wasps 31 Northampton 5
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The Independent Online

Northampton could easily find themselves back at the Causeway Stadium next month for a Premiership semi-final against the reigning champions, a prospect they must view with the kind of enthusiasm the Prime Minister reserves for late-night votes on variable top-up fees. Wayne Smith, the Midlanders' coach, knows a thing or two about this game - he is, after all, about to embark on a second tour of duty at the sharp end of the All Blacks operation - but he was genuinely startled by the extent of Wasps' supremacy yesterday.

Smith singled out Simon Shaw, the Londoners' answer to Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant. "He hurt us in the wide channels, and hurt us badly," he admitted. It was the first of a series of tributes to Shaw's performance in the second row, the most striking of which came from Lawrence Dallaglio, who ignored the diplomatic niceties associated with the England captaincy and effectively demanded his colleague's presence on the summer trip to New Zealand and Australia.

Asked to comment on the issue from a Wasps perspective, as opposed to an England one, Dallaglio chose to do it his way. "It's a mystery to a lot of people," he said, quite obviously referring to Shaw's absence from the Test side. "He'd be in anyone's Premiership team, I know that much. He brings a hard edge to our game and has footballing skills most players in his position cannot match. We have a mighty tough tour coming up, and we'll need some mighty tough people. To my mind, you don't need to look much further than Simon."

Strong words indeed, and brave ones too, but they at least saved Dallaglio the trouble of e-mailing his views to Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson, the coaches primarily responsible for rejecting Shaw's claim to red rose preferment. On this evidence, there is more chance of Northampton winning here on the weekend of 15 May - if, indeed, they recover from this battering sufficiently to make the play-offs - than of Shaw being left off the flight to Auckland in June.

Shaw was not alone in running Northampton ragged; Mark van Gisbergen, Fraser Waters and Tom Voyce made a mess of the visitors in open field, while Trevor Leota, Joe Worsley and Dallaglio himself clocked up many a mile on the ball-carrying front. But the out-sized lock bounced off so many tacklers, turned over so much opposition ball and flicked so many damaging passes out of contact that a Martian would have recognised the quality of his contribution.

Northampton defended their line for 28 one-way minutes in the first half, thanks largely to the self-sacrifice of their resident workhorse, Matt Lord. Then, the barricade crumbled. Shaw handled twice at the start of the move, driving hard down the left to create an attacking platform in the "red zone", to use the common parlance. From there the ball was spun right and when Worsley found himself confronted only by the lightweight Shane Drahm he finished the move with barely a second thought.

Sixteen points ahead at the interval, Wasps killed the game within four minutes of the restart. Shaw was prominent once more at the line-out and in the loose, and as a result Will Green claimed a rare tighthead's try. An exchange of scores in the final quarter - Bruce Reihana for Northampton, Voyce for the home team - may not have amounted to much, but Wasps' performance certainly did.

Wasps: Tries Worsley, Green, Voyce. Conversions Van Gisbergen 2. Penalties Van Gisbergen 4. Northampton: Try Reihana.

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, F Waters (A Erinle 76), S Abbott (M Denney 76), T Voyce; A King, R Howley (H Biljon 80); C Dowd, T Leota (B Gotting 76), W Green (T Payne 65), S Shaw, R Birkett (G Skivington 76), J Worsley, P Volley (M Lock 78), L Dallaglio (capt).

Northampton: B Reihana; N Beal, C Hyndman (J Brooks 67), J Leslie (capt, M Dawson 47), O Ripol; S Drahm, M Robinson; T Smith (C Budgen 75), D Richmond (S Thompson 47), T Taumoepeau (R Morris 47), M Lord, M Connors (J Phillips 75), A Blowers, D Fox, M Soden (G Seely 50).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset)