Lawrence Dallaglio signed off his illustrious rugby career by leading Wasps to the Guinness Premiership title at Twickenham on Saturday. Leicester Tigers were the great man's final victims, suffering an ignominious 26-16 defeat.
Lawrence Dallaglio signed off his illustrious rugby career by leading Wasps to the Guinness Premiership title at Twickenham on Saturday. Leicester Tigers were the great man's final victims, suffering an ignominious 26-16 defeat in an absorbing grand final.
Wasps duly make it four league titles in six seasons, rising to the very top after finding themselves tenth in the table after eight rounds of rugby.
Normal teams might have abandoned all hope, but Wasps are not a normal team. The near-impossible was accepted as a challenge rather than a mighty impediment, and they deserve all the world's silverware for the audacity of their vision alone.
Wasps thoroughly outclassed their arch-rivals in the first half of a fascinating final played out in front of a world-record club crowd of 81,600.
Tom Rees and Josh Lewsey both touched down for tries, while Mark van Gisbergen weighed in with five successful kicks at goal to leave Leicester adrift and drowning at 23-6 down at the break.
The Tigers awoke from their slumber early in the second half, with Tom Varndell and Harry Ellis crossing the whitewash to cut the deficit to a mere seven points.
But Andy Goode was unable to find the touches that did for Gloucester in the semi-finals: he slotted just two kicks at goal whilst the reborn Van Gisbergen finished the day with 16 points to his name.
But it would be wrong to point an accusing finger at Goode – Leicester's failure was collective.
It seems slightly ludicrous that Marcelo Loffreda's job should be on the line after guiding his side to the final, but something is definitely missing from this Leicester side: it is patently not the side that marauded its way to this very title just 12 short months ago.
Unfortunately for Loffreda, Leicester's problems appear to be organisational. They slipped off too many tackles, left too many holes in defence and were painfully slow to respond to threats.
They even lacked that niggle – that penchant for climbing up noses – that has long made them such a hard side to handle.
But all of this must be seen in the light of a brilliant opening spell from Wasps.
Deprived the deft touches of Danny Cipriani, Wasps opted to unsheath their bludgeoning forwards on the dumbfounded men of Leicester.
Rees and James Haskell were simply outstanding in the loose, as was big Simon Shaw who is now a fully fledged loose forward in all but name.
Wasps were simply quicker in thought, body and deed than their opponents – and far more streetwise. A number of clever incidences of blocking – at restarts and clearances – went unnoticed by officials, and their famous blitz defence had a somewhat loose interpretation of the words 'back and 'foot'.
And there might have been a little chicanery afoot when Wasps called for uncontested scrums – bringing on Joe Worsley after losing two props to “injury” – just when Leicester were beginning to get the upper hand in the forward exchanges.
But the first rule of rugby is to play to the whistle, and Wasps did just that. It's not really a crime if they don't catch you.
Van Gisbergen and Goode exchanged early penalties before Wasps struck from their first meaningful attack.
Fit-again England captain Phil Vickery popped up to keep the ball alive after Eoin Reddan split the green ranks with a fine midfield break, and Leicester were at sixes and sevens in defence.
Wasps had no intention of letting such an opportunity slip, and Rees dived over for a try that Van Gisbergen converted from the touchline.
Leicester found themselves facing worrying early pressure, and their defensive work took its toll as full-back Geordan Murphy and centre Aaron Mauger both required treatment.
The Tigers briefly roared through wing Alesana Tuilagi's power, but Wasps finished the opening half with a 10-point blitz in six minutes.
Van Gisbergen completed his penalty hat-trick after Leicester's England lock Ben Kay was fortunate to escape a yellow card, then Wasps struck a killer blow.
Dallaglio's presence of mind deep inside his own half ignited a promising counter-attack that lock Simon Shaw and the irrepressible Rees bought into, causing Leicester to chase at a rate of knots.
Ultimately though it was a missed tackle by Tigers flank Ben Herring that allowed Lewsey to sprint clear and touch down, with Van Gisbergen's fifth successful kick giving Wasps an imposing 23-6 interval advantage.
Vickery, unsurprisingly given his lack of match fitness, made way for Pat Barnard at the break, while injured Tigers centre Dan Hipkiss was replaced by ex-Wasps player Ayoola Erinle.
Leicester threw everything at Wasps from the restart, and scrum-half Ellis was agonisingly denied a try when his chip and chase was tapped behind his dead-ball line by a retreating Paul Sackey.
Territorially, Tigers remained in the contest, but their lack of firepower was exposed until Goode unlocked Wasps' defence after 56 minutes.
Goode's clever cross-kick caused uncertainty in the Wasps defence, and Geordan Murphy was on hand to tap it back over the heads Van Gisbergen and Lewsey, and Varndell pounced for an opportunist score.
Although Varndell's touchdown only reduced the gap to 23-11, it served as a wake-up call for Wasps, who had shown signs of complacency.
And when the game went to uncontested scrums, Leicester immediately prospered after Ellis scampered off the back to cross unopposed.
Goode missed the conversion, but Leicester were back in the final at only seven points adrift, setting up a nerve-tingling closing 15 minutes.
Van Gisbergen then hoisted Wasps 26-16 clear, and when Goode missed a straightforward penalty nine minutes from time, Wasps knew they were home and hosed.
Dallaglio, flanked up his children on the touchline, struck a familiar pose as the final whistle sounded, hoisting up those anthropoidal arms to the heavens in triumph.
It's a scene we've seen so many times before. Alas, we shall never see it again.
Man of the match: Mention must be made of the departing sons of Wycombe, Lawrence Dallaglio and Fraser Water, respectively the brawn and brain of the club for many a year, and together its beating heart. Wasps are poorer for their passing. Geordan Murphy, as per usual, had an outstanding game for Leicester, and Harry Ellis looks to be almost back to his best. Wasps were manful to a man, but James Haskell and Simon Shaw were a cut above. Yet just shading them was Tom Rees. The flank has been accused of not being big enough for the rarified climes of top-flight rugby, but he made his presence felt today.
Moment of the match: Four nice tries and some sublime moments, but it will be Lawrence Dallaglio's exit that will live longest in the mind. The talismanic loose forward left the stage in the 67th minute, and 81,600 souls of all persuasions rose to honour him with a prolonged ovation. It was an 'I was there' moment of note.