Wasps make unhappy return

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Wasps 3

Harlequins 34

WASPS, who had to get reacquainted with their own pitch yesterday after a long absence, found it even more difficult to match the pace and pressure of the Harlequins. Not that the Quins made much use of their own talents except early and late in the game, but two tries by their right wing, Daren O'Leary, not only put his side's victory beyond any doubt, but confirmed his own place as top scorer in the First Division with 19 tries.

This fixture was a refugee from the bleak mid-winter - a spell which the Wasps must have thought never-ending. It is axiomatic that they should not be allowed to play any Cup games at home, but that is only part of the story. They have not really passed a ball in anger at Repton Avenue since 21 October. In over four months their home-loving supporters have had only an aborted league match against West Hartlepool and one or two friendly games to watch. With gate and bar profits down, the feel-good factor has been as elusive here as anywhere else.

Even now the fixture was diminished by the absence of England players, who were were doing some last-minute cramming for the Ireland game. Wasps were missing their captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, and the Quins not only theirs, Jason Leonard, but England's, Will Carling. And though both clubs are in that twilight zone where neither needs to worry too much about the title or about relegation, wins still mean points, and point mean possible prizes in Europe next season. As far as anyone knows, the top four in the first division will be involved. This was enough to animate the game.

If anything, it seemed dangerously hyperactive at the start. Despite the regulation penalty to open the scoring - kicked by Guy Gregory for Wasps after 90 seconds - the Quins seemed to race through their repertoire of moves like Tom Stoppard's 10-minute Hamlet. In fact that was exactly how long it took them to score the try which gave them the lead they kept throughout. It was nicely executed at high speed. Instead of trying to catch a ball that was bouncing high in the middle of the field, Glen Harrison neatly tapped it back, for Chris Sheasby and Will Greenwood to relay it to the left, and Jim Staples to put Spencer Bromley across in the corner.

All the same, 75 minutes passed before the Quins, for all their efforts, could repeat this feat - though then they did it in triplicate. Their problem was getting quick, usable possession in the face of a Wasps side who began by spreading the ball around and then lapsed into damage limitation. They still forged ahead through the kicking of Paul Challinor, who totted up three penalties and a drop goal while failing with six attempts.

Quins' second wind came when in the last seven minutes when Wasps had completely run out of puff. O'Leary went over twice, the first time in pursuit of Greenwood's diagonal chip, and the second when sent through by Rory Jenkins, who had taken a crafty pass which Greenwood had slipped to him behind his back. Finally Challinor went over for a try by the posts, generously, or perhaps prudently, leaving the conversion to his scrum- half, Nick Walshe.

Wasps: J Ufton; L Scrase, N Greenstock, A James, S Roiser; G Gregory, S Bates (capt); D Molloy, K Dunn, I Dunston (D Macer, 72), A Orugboh, R Kinsey, M White (J Worsley, 40), R Pool-Jones, C Wilkins.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Greenwood, G Harrison, S Bromley; P Challinor, N Walshe; S Brown, S Mitchell, A Mullins, A Snow, M Watson, G Allison, R Jenkins, C Sheasby (I Pickup, 58).

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool & District).