Wasps FC welcomed Staines Rugby Club to Twyford Avenue for the 2018/19 season opener. The teams were evenly matched last season, with Staines shading victory by three points both home and away.
The home team won the toss and elected to kick-off, allowing the visitors to play with the South-Westerly breeze behind them. Wasps duly kicked-off towards the club house, with fly-half Eddy Fogg, pitching a perfectly weighted drop into the Staines 40m area. Rookie Archie Harrison gathered in the ball for the attacking side and was quickly engulfed by a group of seasoned Staines forwards, who demonstrated (what is affectionately known as) collective old-man strength.
Wasps were able to manufacture a little forward movement in the ensuing maul, but not enough to persuade official Richard Gourlay that the ball might re-appear on the Wasps side, and he blew his whistle to signal that Staines had won this early wrestling victory.
Thus the first half was defined.
Staines duly won their scrum, and that was the last time Wasps would see opposition territory for 30 minutes. These opening sequences were followed by waves of Staines pressure, and almost inevitably, 7 minutes later, they scored.
Wasps re-started. Not very well actually. In an otherwise faultless display, the Wasps fly-half failed to reach 10 meters at the kick-off, and the home team were back under pressure with a scrum on the centre point. More Staines possession and territory and 5 minutes later full-back Andre Roberts gathered the ball just inside Wasps territory, skipped around 3 defenders and touched-down for the Staines kicker to add 2 extra points.
Wasps 0 - Staines 12
The visiting supporters and coaching staff were clearly enjoying these opening salvos and a worried silence descended upon the home supporters.
Then followed possession and attacks from the visitors as Wasps gained scraps of possession, but they were unable to retain the ball long enough to make any effective inroads through Staines’ solid defence.
With the clocking approaching half time, Wasps won a penalty near the half way line, kicked for territory down the right-hand flank, and finally managed to string enough phases together to find themselves at last, deep in Staines territory.
Players and supporters sensed that this rare visit to the red-zone must be rewarded. Injury in the Wasps back-row meant that it was time for Wasps prop Gerwyn Stone to enter the fray. There was a break, as 3 or 4 colleagues tried to pull the 3XL shirt onto the Tighthead’s body, and when the boob-tube was finally in position, the only Welshman in the village took his place in an attacking scrum on the Staines 5m line. One penalty and another scrum later, veteran Neil Arpin, playing at scrum half 15 years after his arrival at the club, picked up from the back, glanced at his winger and exploited the subsequent gap between defenders to score a pivotal try.
Wasps 5 - Staines 12
Wasps were back in the game and few minutes later it was half time.
Rugby is many things, and amongst them is momentum. Wasps came out for the second half having survived an almighty storm, but only 1 score down and with the wind now behind them. Staines, on the other hand, may have felt somewhat deflated, having enjoyed 80% of possession and territory, but not many points ahead. Perhaps those opposing dynamics lead to the excellent try that Wasps soon scored. With the ball passing from Alex d’Cruz, to Oscar Fowler Marsh to Camille Mulcaire, then back again and back to Camille to weave his way to the try-line, Wasps finally showed the skills they have in depth this season. With Eddy Fogg adding the extras, Wasps were level.
By now, the home team had rejigged their line-up. Paddy Doyle moved into the second row, making a front five platform that would match any team this year. Bojan Ceceric had moved from the centre to the back-row, adding a feisty tackle-breaker up front, and burly Matt Dick, making his first appearance in black and gold, took his place in the 13 position. Matt’s inside step and no-nonsense approach added a new attacking angle to Wasps back-play, and it will be a struggle to get that shirt of his back.
The home team now had the initiative. Scrums were providing solid platforms and collisions were being won. Close-quarter tries followed from Paddy Doyle and Oscar Fowler Marsh, with Wasps’ Eddy Fogg adding extras along the way.
Staines soon required that scrums became uncontested (to the home crowd’s disappointment) but Wasps profited from the subsequent clean possession and their fifth try came from a recycle on a penalty-scrum no 8 pick-up, followed by 9 to 10 to 12 Camille Mulcaire who raced in for his second try 5 minutes from the end.
Final score Wasps FC 29 Staines 12
Such is the nature of the calendar that the two teams will not meet again until the last match of the season. Staines showed for 40 minutes that they will be a very hard team to beat this year. Wasps meanwhile grew in confidence and showed some exquisite attacking rugby when their heads were up. Next week they play Old Actonians who always put up a tough fight, and we will have a clearer indication of where this team are headed this year.
Updated 11:28 - 12 Sep 2018 by Kate Hallett