Wasps wing it

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The Independent Online
Bristol 18

Wasps 41

Mid-season jitters continued to plague Wasps as they made heavy work of overcoming a Bristol side reluctant to smooth the Londoners' path to the championship.

In the manner of Northampton, who a fortnight ago pushed Wasps to 18- 13, the West County underdogs showed how the lower orders in the League do not respect pedigree when their own survival is at stake. Wasps scored six tries to Bristol's pair but the margin flattered the victors.

After the game, the Wasps director of rugby, Nigel Melville, said: "Every time you play a team at the bottom of the League it's going to be hard. It's the desperate men at the bottom who are the hardest to beat." Not to mention the desperate men near the top, like Harlequins, who beat Wasps last week.

Melville now has a big struggle off the field as well. Yesterday was the expiry date of Va'aiga Tuigamala's contract, and the former All Black returns to Wigan, and the Super League today and stays there unless Melville and the money men at Wasps can negotiate a new deal. Melville was hopeful yesterday, saying several options were on the table. "We're not in a position to buy out his contract but have been making contingency plans."

The Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, said: "We have consistently said all the union players' contracts run out on 11 January, and we expect them all to be back with us next week. We have discussed a number of options with Wasps but no agreement has been reached and we expect Tuigamala to be available for our Challenge Cup tie on 8 February."

Tuigamala made a telling contribution yesterday, scoring two tries. Apart from these, Wasps notched up tries through their second-row Andy Reed, centre Nick Greenstock, No 8 Chris Sheasby and wing Shane Roiser, four of them converted by their full-back Gareth Rees. The Canadian also kicked a penalty.

Bristol's efforts were characteristically wayward: first, they contrived to drop the ball over the Wasps line, literally throwing away a try, only to steal a strike against the head in the resulting scrum for the centre Mark Denney to score. Their second try was no better plotted, Paul Burke intercepting a telegraphed pass. He also kicked a couple of penalties and converted Denney's try.

Questions remain about Wasps despite the victory, particularly in the pack. The back-row of Lawrence Dallaglio, Sheasby and Buster White performed with their habitual toughness, speed and verve, but in front of them there often did not seem to be much fire. Bristol did have fire but not much finesse. At the end of it all, passion may not be enough to keep Bristol up - and skill alone may not be enough to give Wasps the championship.

The England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall left the field in the closing minutes of the game, having taken an earlier bang on his shoulder and another knock just before his departure, while the England lock Simon Shaw was again missing from the Bristol line-up because of a back injury. Both players should be fit for when the England squad regroup again at Bisham Abbey this week as they prepare for their Five Nations title defence.

Bristol: P Hull; D Tiueti, S Martin, M Denney, B Breeze; P Burke, R Jones; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, P Adams, C Eagle, M Corry (capt), E Rollitt, D Corkery.

Wasps: G Rees; J Ufton, N Greenstock, V Tuigamala, S Roiser; A King, A Gomarsall (J Wood, 81);D Malloy, D Macer, W Green, D Cronin (R Kinsey, 75), A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, M White.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).