Waters turns the tide for Wasps

Wasps 23 Saracens 11
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Needless to say Farrell, perhaps an even bigger cross-code signing than Jason Robinson, suffered a badly bruised toe. So Sarries, for the big London derby against Wasps, had to take the field without old tenderfoot.

Had he been fit, Farrell would probably have played at centre, and it would have been fascinating to see the outcome. As it transpired, Saracens played as if their centres didn't exist. Time and again their favoured policy of bypassing the Wasps was to float long passes aimed directly at the wings, Richard Haughton and Dan Scarbrough. A fly-fisherman would have been proud of some of these casts, but almost inevitably it was never quite enough.

Strangely Wasps never cottoned on to the interception, but in the end they never had to. Wearing factor 30 on a boiling afternoon, the players had shown commendable fitness and resilience in staying the course (some of them), even if it was their first game of the com-petitive season. It was always a tight affair, although Wasps seemed to have more in hand without putting the result beyond doubt.

The reigning champions, who under their last coach, Warren Gatland, had pulled off the remarkable feat of a hat-trick of Premiership titles, had edged ahead by 16-11. It should have been more but Paul Sackey, usually a great try-scorer, knocked on a pass from Mark van Gisbergen about three yards from the line. Had the match been played in a monsoon it would have been unforgivable.

Saracens responded with a typical counterattack from Thomas Castaignède. He didn't give a pass when he should have, but Wasps were pinned in front of their posts.

And then it happened. Glen Jackson, the principal architect of the floater, delivered one to his left on the Wasps 22. He couldn't have been looking, because there wasn't a team-mate in sight. Instead the ball was picked up by the excellent Van Gisbergen, who made ground before releasing Sackey. The wing was odds on to complete a spectacular score before he was collared by Haughton just short of the line. In the ensuing scramble the prop Kevin Yates - fair play to him for getting back - smashed into Sackey, who at that point did not have the ball. A yellow card for Yates and advantage to Wasps, who took it by sending Fraser Waters clean through the middle for a try at the posts.

It enabled the hosts to complete a satisfactory victory by two goals and three penalties to a goal and two penalties. Twickenham is Wasps' second home. This is where they end up in May to land the Premiership title, and who is to say they won't return here again in nine months' time.

Wasps have been very quiet on the recruitment front although, of course, they have Ian McGeechan as head coach in place of Gatland, who returned to his native New Zealand with garlands galore. "It's good to start with a win," McGeechan said. "It gives us something to build on." Even Gatland came up with better lines than that.

Before a crowd of 35,000 - this double- header business has been a good idea - Jackson kicked Saracens into a 6-0 lead with penalties in the seventh and 14th minutes. Joe Worsley flattened Ben Russell and Martin Purdy also hit the deck, both players being replaced. It took Wasps half an hour to score a try and it came from Tom Voyce, who darted over from broken play. Van Gisbergen, who had kicked a penalty, converted.

They relinquished their lead after two minutes of the second half and, typically, it came from an unorthodox strike from an unorthodox position. The Saracens defence has been water-tightened by Mike Ford, one of the Lions coaches. The Wasps rearguard is even more efficient. The only try they conceded was as a result of a wheeled scrum from which Ben Skirving, with his opposite number in a twist, galloped 30 yards to the line, brushing off Sackey on the way.

Sarries were 11-10, ahead but in the heat it was almost a mirage. Van Gisbergen kicked Wasps ahead again before Waters ultimately exploited Jackson's pass.

Wasps were missing the familiar figure of Trevor Leota, who has gone to pastures new, and Saracens were missing Farrell. He was here, as a spectator, but it could be another month before he dips his toe in the water.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, A Erinle (F Waters, 65), S Abbott, T Voyce; A King, E Reddan (M Dawson, 59); T Payne, R Ibañez (B Gotting, 56), P Bracken (J Dawson, 30), M Purdy (T Rees, 22), R Birkett, J Hart (capt), J Worsley, J O'Connor.

Saracens: T Castaignède; R Haughton, B Johnston (D Harris, 65), K Sorrell, D Scarbrough; G Jackson, A Dickens (M Rauluni, 58); K Yates (N Lloyd, 33), M Cairns (S Byrne, 53), C Visagie (Yates, 72), K Chesney (I Fullarton, 46), H Vyvyan (capt), B Russell (A Sanderson, 22), B Skirving, D Seymour.

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).