Scarlets stung at Stradey Park

18th Nov 2007, 14:23

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Plain Sailing: Wasps centre Fraser Waters runs in one of his two tries

Plain Sailing: Wasps centre Fraser Waters runs in one of his two tries

London Wasps are alive and kicking in the Heineken Cup's pool of death after recording an impressive 33-17 victory over Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park on Saturday, running five tries past the thoroughly out-classed locals.


London Wasps are alive and kicking in the Heineken Cup's pool of death after recording an impressive 33-17 victory over Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park on Saturday, running five tries past the thoroughly out-classed locals.

There was a miracle in this match - a resurrection of sorts, a phoenix act if you prefer to avoid accusations of blasphemy.

Suddenly on the windy plain of Stradey on a cold Saturday night, centre three-quarter play came back to life. It rose from the dull, dead ashes of modern plod to explode into creative, joyful life.

And then men who did it, the phoenix pair, were Fraser Waters and Riki Flutey of London Wasps. They were marvellous.

They made chances for others, took on opponents themselves and beat them and still had time to defend with resolution.

The world of rugby should watch them over and over, holding grateful breath as they do so. It was so old fashioned and it worked.

Before the match Ian McGeechan, once a great centre, walked to the middle of the field and laid a wreath on behalf of Wasps in memory of the late, great Ray Gravell, once a great centre whose memorial service had been on the ground he so loved on Thursday.

The home crowd appreciated that. Perhaps it was fitting that two great centres should then have the ground honoured by two great centre performances.

There must be great centres all over the world, old men with stiff knees, men who had bashed unbelieving ears, who must have felt their hearts beat again with joy. Rugby football was not dead. It did not have to be a drab repetition of mindless thumping. A centre no need to be a failed flank.

It was a night for rejoicing.

It would be wonderful just to give a report on the play of those two men and the opportunities a young genius at fly-half, Danny Cipriani, gave them. But we must report on the match, and there still may be doubting Thomases who do not believe in a resurrection and start muttering their Buts.

Apart from the play of Waters and Flutey, defence won and lost the match. London Wasps could do it; Llanelli Scarlets could not.

The Scarlets defence was a leaky sieve. Even when they had a mind to tackle it took two to do what one man should have done. On the other hand they could not cope with the rush defence of the Wasps. Even when the Scarlets went through phase after phase, they lost ground as the Wasps forced them further and further from their goal-line.

True they scored two tries but they were long-range affairs created by two special individuals, Dwayne Peel early on and Mark Jones near the end when the match was over as a contest.

The Scarlets did well enough at the scrums and beat Wasps hopelessly at the line-outs, winning half the Londoners' ball. But that is really all that they won as they again were hammered.

In two Heineken Cup matches they have now conceded 81 points. Perhaps it really was their rickety defence that made Waters and Flutey look so exceptional.

The Scarlets started well and then the Wasps came buzzing back. Waters was the first to threaten with a break. Then they went left and as he was being grabbed on a half-gap Flutey gave a short pass to Waters who strode through the defence. Morgan Stoddart knocked him down without grasping him and Waters was up to stretch in a dive for the line and a try.

Stoddart, a new addition to Wales' squad, was almost a symptom of the Scarlets' play. He was full of verve and go with the ball in hand but not interested in defence, either tackling or grabbing the high ball. And in the end all his exciting running came to nothing.

Five minutes after the first try, Cipriani kicked a feeble-looking kick down into the Scarlets' 22 where it bounced and spun back. Stoddart grasped at it and knocked it on. There was Waters to pick up and pass to big Simon Shaw on his right.

Shaw thundered ahead and, grabbed, fed a perfect pass back to Waters who raced over. This time Cipriani converted. 12-0 after 10 minutes. It was a surprise because the Scarlets were playing well.

Peel made the Scarlets' try. He is such a brilliant player. He makes tackle ball quick for his side by always being at the breakdown and clearing with unerring judgement.

There was a scrum near the Scarlets' 10-metre line and the referee penalised the Wasps. Peel got the ball behind the 10-metre line, tapped and raced away. He sped over the half-way line and over the Wasps' 10-metre line when he fed Mark Jones who fed inside to Simon Easterby who had a straight run to the line, his speed just getting him there as Cipriani tried to hang onto him.

Stephen Jones converted and 12-7 looked reasonable for the Scarlets who were playing into the wind.

The Wasps got a third try before the break. Waters did a scissors with Cipriani and broke past two groping defenders before giving to lock George Skivington who galloped over for the try. Again Cipriani converted. 19-7.

A penalty produced a five-metre line-out for the Scarlets but the resolute Wasps defence held, partly thanks to an off-side tackle on Alix Popham by Waters.

Jones goaled that, to make the score 19-10 at half-time and in the second half the Scarlets would have the effective wind.

They started their wind-assisted second half as if they were going to wipe out the nine-point deficit quickly as they attacked. A clever chip by Stephen Jones set Gavin Evans racing and the Scarlets' interpassing was excellent, but always there was the smothering defence of the Wasps.

Having won the defence, the Wasps went on the attack. Flutey broke past Stephen Jones and looked certain to score untill Easterby felled him. The Wasps still looked certain to score but Mark van Gisbergen knocked on.

The Wasps attacked on the right and then came back left when Cipriani, without any subtlety, charged at the line. Knocked down he was able to get up, plunge and stretch for a try which the TMO confirmed. He converted. 26-10 with 15 minutes to play. That was the bonus-point try.

Flutey had another excellent break. A tackle by Waters produced loose ball which Flutey kicked ahead. Cipriani toed the ball into the Scarlets' in-goal and was ahead of the defence but somehow brave Regan King dived onto the ball first.

The Wasps went left and there was a gap which Flutey accepted with glee. Evans knocked him down but his momentum took him in for the try. Cipriani converted. 33-10 with ten minutes to go.

The Scarlets did not give in. When they won a tighthead Nathan Thomas charged. Then Stoddart had a promising run which fell apart when he needed to pass. But then came the last score of the match.

There was a tackle/ruck on the half-way line and Mark Jones picked up the ball. He forced his way between Bruce Douglas and James Hayter, like Ulysses between Scylla and Charybdis, and raced ahead, sweeping past Van Gisbergen for a try at the posts.

Man of the Match: For all the brilliance of Dwayne Peel it had to be that