Wasps Sting Sombre Saracens – 4 Sept 2011

Saracens 15 Wasps 20
A sun drenched crowd of over 55,000 descended upon rugby’s headquarters to witness Saracens’ first match of the new season as they bid to retain the title that they so deservedly won back in May.
The bookies odds were firmly in favour of a routine Saracens victory, especially as they were playing a Wasps team who seem to be on a perennial downward spiral after the glory days of the mid and late 2000’s. Even the most ardent Wasps supporter could not have disagreed with the prematch predictions.
Wasps, with a new Director of Rugby and a plethora of new players, were surely coming as lambs to the slaughter. No-one gave them a prayer.
But sport has a habit of producing the unexpected. The supposed vanquished rise to the occasion, the spirit and determination of individuals comes to the surface and a collective will forged amongst strenuous pre-season days on the training ground starts to bear fruit. And today, yes, the underdog had it’s day. 
Wasps showed a cussedness and fight so lacking in recent campaigns that one’s mind instantly returned to glorious Twickenham victories of yesteryear. Here today, they tackled like men possessed, they overcame the adversity of a scrum that was overpowered by the dominant Saracens pack, yet they kept their belief and in the fleet footed Christian Wade and Tom Varndell, they possess two potential match winners. Indeed, it was they who scored the match’s only tries, both finished with style and blistering pace.
Wade, still only 20, and fresh from stirling performances for the England U’20s over the summer, played with a joyful freedom and confidence of a man who feared nothing or no-one. He scorched across the Twickenham grass leaving black shirted Saracens men trailing in his wake, grabbing at his coat tails but to no avail. Make no mistake, this boy is electric and has a big future ahead of him. Varndell’s appetite for action remains undinted and his finish for the match winning try, brushing off two would be tacklers reminded us all that he remains a potent weapon.
Wasps certainly need to harness the strengths of both him and Wade in the coming season if they are to build on this performance. As they say, one swallow and all that, but the signs were encouraging. Robinson, Southwell and Wentzel showed their international pedigree on their debuts, whilst the New Zealander Jonathan Poff, only recently off the plane, scavaged and fought tirelessly and his gutsy performance earned him the man of the match award. Wasps’ scrum did creak badly and will be a concern to Dai Young, overseeing his new charges for the first time, but the line out functioned metronomically in an area that Wasps have traditionally been poor. Wasps will keep their feet firmly on the ground after this victory as there remains work to be done. The Wasps hierachy have gone on record to state that this season was always intended to be a rebuilding one, yet on this performance foundations seem to have already been laid. 
What about Saracens? Their performance was distinctly lacking in fluidity and imagination. They might point to the fact that they have 8 players on international duty at the world cup, but still they have enough strength in depth to overcome such absentees. The scrum was mightily dominant and this produced plenty of good quality possession, but they could not use it to their advantage. Farrell and Hodgson, on his debut, kicked 5 penalties between them but they lacked spark and creativity outside.
The ghastly Saracens club song, more akin to an American high school chant with dancers to match than that of an English professional rugby outfit, was frequently blasted over the tannoy, reminding and urging the crowd to stand up for their charges, but at the final whistle it was the Wasps supporters who were on their feet applauding their new look team after a memorable and deserved victory. Is this the beginning of a new era one might ask? Whisper it and you might just believe it.

4 September 2011

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