Wasps power past falling Saints

23rd Apr 2007, 10:03


Nothing Doing: Simon Shaw holds of a couple of would-be tacklers

Nothing Doing: Simon Shaw holds of a couple of would-be tacklers

The final of the 2006/07 Heineken Cup will be contested by the two most successful English teams of the professional era, after London Wasps fought back from an early 13-0 deficit to beat Northampton Saints 13-30 at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.

The final of the 2006/07 Heineken Cup will contested by the two most successful English teams of the professional era, after London Wasps fought back from an early 13-0 deficit to beat Northampton Saints 13-30 at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.

Wasps now go on to face Leicester Tigers in May's grand finale at Twickenham, while the Saints must pick themselves up and beat London Irish next weekend if they are to even maintain their Guinness Premiership status.

The build-up to this game had been a one-sided affair going the way of the Saints, with questions being raised about the alleged discord at Franklin's Garden.

But the men from Northampton were nothing if not united in Coventry, taking a lead into the break before Wasps finally stirred, going ahead for the first time after 60 minutes.

With the spectre of relegation at their collective shoulder, the Saints exploded into the game - this was a life-line and they took hold of it with 30 hands and 15 sets of teeth.

With just five minutes gone, Sean Lamont took the ball on his ten-metre line and experience trumped youth as he picked a gap between Dominic Waldouck and Danny Cipriani.

The flying Scotsman's long strides gobbled up the grass before he shipped possession out to his left. Carlos Spencer was on hand to take the ball on and a lovely overhead pass found Bruce Reihana who dotted down in the corner before converting his own try. Perhaps these New Zealanders ain't such a bad influence after all!

The early setback clearly knocked Wasps and Lawrence Dallaglio soon attempted to wrestle back authority in his own inimitable style.

Pulled from the centre of a brawl by referee Alan Lewis, the Wasps talisman claimed that he had been gouged.

But Spencer was not impressed by the tattle-taling and leaned across Lewis to give the former England captain a slap to the head. The writing was on the wall: the Saints were not going to be cowed by their illustrious guests.

Reihana then added two penalties - Joe Worsley holding on, Raphaël Ibañez not rolling away - in quick succession to hammer home the point and Wasps were 13-0 down with less the a quarter of the game played.

Wasps then put together their first decent spell of pressure, using their big forwards to punch holes around the fringes. But the good work was undone by the inexperience of Cipriani.

With a try in the corner there for the taking, the young pivot opted for the one-handed touch-down, only to be pushed into touch by a despairing lunge from Reihana. It was the same mistake as he made last week against the same opponents - could the youngster suffer from a grass allergy?

Northampton were having all sorts of problems at the scrum, and it came to a head in the 28th-minute as Lewis pinged them for collapsing the set-piece. Mark van Gisbergen duly got Wasps off the mark with an easy shot at goal.

The score seemed to settle the visitors' nerves and Northampton were forced to repel a barrage of attacks. A try seemed inevitable and it was Paul Sackey who eventually bagged it, juggling a quick pass from Eoin Reddan to score in the right-hand corner.

Van Gisbergen couldn't find the target with the conversion, but the try signalled a turning of the tide. Although the Saints went to the break nursing a 13-8 lead, their supporters wore the same troubled expression that they have been sporting since before Christmas.

But the Saints steadfastly refused to go gently into the night.

Feeding off Northampton's woeful scrummage, Wasps enjoyed the lion's share of possession and territory early in the second period, but some iron-willed defence from Northampton kept the Londoners honest.

Then, disaster. Northampton lost Ben Lewitt to the sin-bin after the flank was pinged for killing the ball in the shadow of his posts. Van Gisbergen added salt to the wound by bringing his side to within two points.

The numerical deficit eventually won Wasps the lead. Winning a penalty in Northampton's half, Dallaglio called for a line-out in the corner before being replaced by James Haskell and the new man punctuated a thunderous rolling maul by stretching over to score. Van Gisbergen failed to convert from far out, but the corner had been turned: Wasps led 16-13 with a 20 minutes left on the clock.

The Saints then summoned by the blood and launched a do-or-die raid fit for the Crimean peninsula. They pushed and shoved and prodded and poked, but the attack came to nought.

Credit to Wasps. They absorbed the storm and hit back with a ferocious attack of their own. Inspired by a brilliant cameo from Josh Lewsey, the visitors shunted the Saints into reversed before sending Sackey jinxing around Ben Cohen and in for a try under the posts.

Van Gisbergen converted and Saints were spent. Lewsey drove the final nail home by dotting down an easy try in the dying moments of the game.

The result is nothing short of a nightmare for England coach Brian Ashton. The England pack which started against Wales in the final Six Nations game was made up entirely of players from Wasps and Leicester - none of whom will be considered for the Test against South Africa in Bloemfontein on the first weekend of June.

But Ashton looks like a lotto winner when compared to Paul Grayson. The Saints boss has 80 minutes in which to turn his season around - he has more to lose than a mere Test.

Man of the match: Plenty of fine individual performances from both sides. Paul Sackey took his two tries well and worked hard in defence. Tom Rees, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley put themselves about in the loose and Sean Lamont showed his class with some fine angular runs. But we hand a consolation prize to Carlos Spencer. Carrying an injury into the game and finding himself needing to justify his presence in the Midlands, he put in a gutsy performance for his side - a performance exemplified by one passage of play in which he dumped Simon Shaw before pile-driving Raphaël Ibañez off the ball to win a handy turn-over.

Moment of the match: In terms of a turning point, it must be Sackey's first try - it settle gold and black nerves and forced the Saints on to the back-foot.

Villain of the match: Quite a lot of niggle in the match. Bruce Reihana appeared to punch Simon Shaw in the back of the head and Ben Lewitt was reprimanded for dropping a knee on Paul Sackey as he scored his second try. But we'll hand the award to Lawrence Dallaglio who appears ready for a career as a referee when (if?) he finally retires. He might have had good reason to complain about the scrap that erupted early in the game, but let's leave vocal intimidation of referees to Wayne Rooney and his chums.