Evans worth his weight in gold
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
September 1, 2012
Nick Evans slots the winning penalty © Getty Images
Those who suggested that this season was going to be something special thanks to the prospect of a British & Irish Lions tour next summer were clearly a little guilty of getting ahead of themselves. Harlequins and Wasps produced a thrilling encounter to rival the very best in the first game of the new Aviva Premiership campaign at Twickenham.
The Lions' latest trip Down Under can certainly wait its turn to hog the limelight if the Premiership continues to serve up high-octane action like this laced with outstanding tries and what is sure to be headline-grabbing controversy with the result edge-of-the-seat drama of the highest class.
Epic tales of Olympic endeavour may have occupied the minds of the sporting public of late but English rugby's top flight boasts a few a heroes of its own - arguably none bigger or more deserving of praise than Quins fly-half Nick Evans. The Kiwi playmaker celebrated his 100th Premiership appearance with an awe-inspiring display that not only resurrected his side's defence of the title when it appeared to have been faltering on the same ground it was sealed just a few short months ago but also underlined his status as the league's and arguably the hemisphere's most talented player.
The return of the likes of Danny Cipriani and Gavin Henson to the domestic stage may have suggested that we were about to see a shift in the balance of power when it comes to such players but it is a challenge that Evans is clearly relishing. A 22-point haul, including a match-winning penalty in the closing moments of the game, does not do his display justice with his talent-heavy boot and superior rugby brain orchestrating an outstanding comeback - but not just any old comeback.
Trailing by the small matter of 27 points the defending champions racked up 29 unanswered points including a game-changing trio of tries in seven second half minutes with Evans at the heart of proceedings. No wonder Quins are so keen to tie him down to a new contract. In this kind of form, he is worth more than an in-form Cipriani and Henson combined.
His efforts did well to overshadow the other eye-catching display - that of Wasps winger Christian Wade. The fleet-footed flyer emphasised everything good about a resurgent Wasps side that were a different side from that which struggled for much of the last campaign and only just avoided the drop. His second try in particular, standing up Quins' George Lowe before leaving him in his wake, is hopefully a taste of things to come for Wasps and the Premiership in general.
Free of the injuries that ravaged them last term, Wasps' hunger and alarming confidence - with Wade's inter-play with Tom Varndell having crossed the try line sure to incur the wrath of boss Dai Young - they tore at Quins fired by the determination to right a few wrongs of last season.
Team GB weightlifter Zoe Smith was paraded before the Twickenham crowd at half-time and it was clear Wasps had followed her lead when it comes to pushing heavy weights around with three tries inside the opening half hour a clear sign that they will once again be a Premiership force this season.
Wade grabbed the glory but lock Marco Wentzel, fullback Hugo Southwell and No.8 Billy Vunipola can also take a bow with their best bringing likewise out of Quins. A lively-looking Varndell was another to threaten with a ball-hungry performance and may have been dominating the headlines instead of Evans had another key figure played such a dominant role.
Television Match Official Graham Hughes was central to proceedings throughout with a new trial extending the scope of the TMOs making its debut in the game. No longer confined to incidents within the 'act of scoring' and able to offer input on any hint of foul play or infringement in the build-up to a score, Hughes was called upon several times to add clarification.
The first instance was perhaps the most noteworthy and lit a fuse for what could be a very controversial season ahead. With Wasps in control and the game heading towards half-time, Varndell appeared to have cemented his side's advantage with his second try. But no, assistant referee Paul Dix caught the attention of referee Greg Garner and suggested he ask for a TMO review specifying a suspected forward pass several phases back on half way.
TV replays suggested it was a marginal forward pass - several of which would go unnoticed elsewhere in the game - and so must be applauded to a degree but it was not clear-cut and never is likely to be. The question is can we live with the grey areas? Either way, it was a key ruling although it would not have tempered the half-time dressing down from Quins boss Conor O'Shea that clearly did the job. It also did little to stem the Wasps tide, with Wentzel and prop Tim Payne crossing after the break, but it set the tone for perhaps the season with every score greeted with a chorus of calls for reviews. This is clearly an unwanted element and immediately calls to mind pictures of football players surrounding officials demanding action and showing little respect - let's hope we are spared such scenes.
Two more reviews would follow - for Payne's try and fullback Mike Brown's second try, both of which were eventually given - but there could have been many more had it not been for Garner's ability to swiftly dismiss calls for him to accept some help from the TMO. Expect more of the same this season. There was also a first use of the new concussion-bin - all in all, a busy day for the officials all round but thankfully it wasn't enough to completely overshadow a breath-taking game of rugby.
Wasps held their own for much of the contest and such a showing from one of last season's strugglers against the side that set the bar last term suggests that the coming months will witness the closest of Premiership battles with little to choose from nearly all of the sides. But it was Quins who showed real class, with some sublime rugby at times, that served as a warning to any side with their eye on the title that they face a huge challenge to wrestle it from their grasp.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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