Planet Rugby

Wasps still alive in Europe

17th January 2009 19:25

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Paul Sackey in top form for Wasps

Power: Sackey was at his best in attack

Wasps maintained their Heineken Cup hopes with a fiery 19-12 victory over Leinster at Twickenham on Saturday.

Thatt's about it. In order to take the pool and avoid the lottery of a runners-up place, Wasps will have to beat Castres with a bonus point and hope Leinster do not do the same against Edinburgh.

They could have had a stab at denying their Irish visitors a bonus point with three minutes to go - thus giving themselves some breathing space at the top of the pool - but opted to go for posts to seal the win instead, a decision that may cost their season if Leinster do the business next week.

But at the start, Wasps had to win at all costs to survive, whilst Leinster knew victory would be enough to see them into the last eight; it was hardly surprising tempers flared early on, and then throughout at regular intervals.

What was even less surprising was seeing Danny Cipriani miss the simplest of penalties in the opening minutes - clearly the demons haunting him have yet to depart. He did however banish them to make it third time lucky after ten minutes, typically slotting over the hardest of all three attempts. His was a game of contrasts: a sublime shimmy here, followed by a drop of the simplest of high balls. Confounding in the extreme.

A classic Josh Lewsey run - what a game he had - backed up by a powerful Paul Sackey burst, lead to Serge Betsen plundering a try out wide. Cipriani added the extras to make it 10-0, and with Leinster huddled under the posts Wasps were strutting back to the re-start with an air of their old selves about them.

Despite a Felipe Contepomi penalty, Wasps, who have been so out of sorts this season, continued to play with confidence and belief in each other. They were helped by a further three points, via Cipriani's boot, and a dubious yellow card for Rob Kearney. Having been involved in a scuffle with numerous other players Kearney can consider himself unlucky to be the only victim of the card.

Whatever numerical advantage Wasps held didn't last long, as Betsen went from hero to villain for taking Contepomi out off the ball. Not only was it needless, but it gave Leinster the chance to trim the lead, which Contepomi duly did. Suddenly a bright start from Wasps was in danger of amounting to nothing more than an average half.

The action was no over yet, and Malcolm O'Kelly was lucky not to have seen a red card. Phil Vickery fell out of a ruck clutching his head, and replays showed the Ireland second row had stamped on it. The touch judge saw it too, and after consultation with Berdos a yellow card was issued, although Wasps could not take advantage - in fact the last kick off the half saw Contepomi cut the lead to just four points. Citing officers will be busy there though.

A chance to bring his side to within one point shortly after the break was squandered, but still Leinster continued to ask questions with the ball in hand, if not in the scrum. Leinster lost two props in the first half, meaning fifty minutes of uncontested scrums - hardly satisfactory for fans or players, and especially not for Wasps whose pack was clearly superior.

Perhaps the lack of work at the scrum accounted for the prominence of Phil Vickery and Joe Worsley in the loose, both making monumental contributions. A shame for Wasps that others failed to follow their lead - a lot of hard work amounted to nothing until Cipriani added his third penalty, only to see Contepomi reply in kind minutes later.

With the pressure mounting Wasps began to creak, a further penalty from Contepomi saw the lead cut again, but a miss with ten minutes to go ultimately cost his side dear. Despite plenty of effort as the game wound down, Leinster could not make the telling blow.

The Wasps of old had an ability to win even when they were not at their best, and until now it has been absent this season. This was not vintage, Betsen's try and a few breaks from Lewsey aside, but there were a few components present that have been missing for most of the season.

Suddenly Wasps are, errors or not, playing with a new intensity, a physical belief in their own ability, as well as each other. The attitude was right, which will please McGeechan and Edwards, and it reflected in the result - a good honest, hard fought victory.

With Castres away next week Wasps know a place in the quarter-finals is not a given. We have seem them struggle against the same opposition in past seasons, but the main fact is their destiny is in their own hands - the safest place for it to be, and seemingly somewhere it hasn't been for a while.

The Scorers:

For Wasps:

Try: Betsen

Con: Cipriani

Pens: Cipriani 3, Walder

For Leinster:

Pens: Contepomi 4

Yellow cards: Kearney (Leinster, 26th minute - instigating a fight), Betsen (Wasps, 33rd - professional foul), O'Kelly (Leinster, 37th - stamping)

The Teams:

Wasps: 15 Mark Van Gisbergen, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Josh Lewsey, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 James Haskell, 7 Serge Betsen, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Richard Birkett, 4 George Skivington, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Rob Webber, 1 Tim Payne.

Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Tom French, 18 Hugo Ellis, 19 Dan Leo, 20 Joe Simpson, 21 Dave Walder, 22 Tom Voyce.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Chris Whitaker, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 1 CJ van der Linde, 2 Bernard Jackman, 1 Stan Wright.

Replacements: 16 John Fogarty, 17 Ollie le Roux, 18 Trevor Hogan, 19 Sean O'Brien, 20 Chris Keane, 21 Gordon D'Arcy, 22 Gavin Dempsey.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)

Touch judges: Jean-Luc Rebollal (France), Patrick Bellet (France)

Television match official: Daniel Gillet (France)

Assessor: Bob Ockenden (England)

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