London Wasps 39-3 Gloucester, Zurich Premiership Final
Wasps obliterate Gloucester to upset apple cart
Richard Seeckts
May 31, 2003
Wasps hold aloft the Premiership trophy © PA Photos

Wasps obliterated Gloucester in Twickenham's end of season showpiece back in 2003, the first occasion on which the play-off winners, rather than the league winners, would be considered England's champion club.

If the blazers that governed sport were given to feeling embarrassment, this most cruel day in English domestic rugby would have been the occasion. Gloucester had finished 15 points clear at the top of the league, won the domestic knockout tournament, the Powergen Cup, and lost only five matches in all competitions during the 2002-03 season.

The play-off format, however, gave the league winners three weeks off in May. While Wasps played the Parker Pen final and the play-off semi-final, maintaining match fitness and focus, Gloucester's players lost both.

Ironically, Gloucester had won the play-off the previous season, when it counted for nothing, and the club at the head of the league, Leicester, were considered English champions.

42,000 basked in Twickenham's sunshine as Wasps stunned everyone with a near perfect display of 15-man rugby. If Gloucester melted in the heat, nothing should be taken away from Lawrence Dallaglio's Wasps team. They showed their superiority in every department, such power in the forwards that half-backs Rob Howley and Alex King had an armchair ride.

As early as the second minute, centre Stuart Abbott tore through Gloucester's sleepy defence in midfield. Josh Lewsey, England's full-back playing on the wing, was there in support and over to score under the posts. The try might have served as a wake-up call after Gloucester's long lay-off, but Ludovic Mercier's penalty for them two minutes later was to be their only score on an afternoon of few sorties into the Wasps half.

We've worked our balls off this season, we've finished 15 points clear and we've been really proud of that

Gloucester captain, Phil Vickery, couldn't raise his men above mediocre, a long way short of matching Wasps. King added two penalties and a drop goal for a 16-3 lead after 18 minutes. Lock Simon Shaw did everything with tremendous calm, Dallaglio kept picking and driving, always supported by Joe Worsley and Paul Volley.

Rupert Bates, in the Sunday Telegraph, reported, "When Gloucester did get the ball they either dropped it or had not a clue what to do with it." Lewsey skipped through for his second try just before half-time and, from 23-3 down, Gloucester needed an epic comeback to be crowned as the champions they thought they were.

Within minutes of the resumption, however, scrum-half Andy Gomarsall's temper got the better of him as he stamped on King and was sent to the sin-bin. No worse for wear, King stretched the lead from the resulting penalty, and banged over another penalty and his second drop goal before Gomarsall had served his ten minutes off the field.

Fraser Waters uses the Premiership trophy to hide his modesty, London Wasps v Gloucester,  Zurich Premiership Final, Twickenham, May 31, 2003
Fraser Waters covers his modesty with the Premiership trophy © PA Photos

Ten minutes from time Gloucester's punishment was complete when another pass was dropped in midfield, which Joe Worsley pounced on to score, finishing with an inelegant attempt at a swallow dive.

Gloucester had nowhere to hide, much as had been the case when Munster took them the to Limerick's cleaners in eliminating them from the Heineken Cup, four months previously.

An otherwise wonderful season for Gloucester, founded on team spirit and discipline instilled by coaches Nigel Melville and Dean Ryan (both formerly men of Wasps) is remembered for two disastrous showings in their most important matches.

Melville couldn't hide his dissatisfaction with the new format or the three week gap between matches for his team. "We've worked our balls off this season, we've finished 15 points clear and we've been really proud of that. We know we are a better side than we saw today. We didn't play and the momentum we've had for the rest of the season wasn't there. Make of that what you like."

Premier Rugby's chief executive, Howard Thomas, had spoken before the final about "lancing the boil" of criticism of the new format. He could scarce have imagined so much pus as to ensure a fourth consecutive season of format change the following year.

Wasps, coached by Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, had peaked at the right time, something they became masters of in seasons that followed, winning the play-off final and the title of champions in three of the next five seasons, without topping the league once.

Gloucester: Thinus Delport; Marcel Garvey (Clive Stuart-Smith 77), Terry Fanolua (Robert Todd 63), Henry Paul, James Simpson-Daniel; Ludovic Mercier(1PG) (Simon Amor 69), Andy Gomarsall (sin bin 42-53); Rodrigo Roncero, Olivier Azam, Phil Vickery; Adam Eustace, Mark Cornwell (Rob Fidler 40); Jake Boer (capt), Andy Hazell, Junior Paramore (Peter Buxton 57).

London Wasps: Mark Van Gisbergen (Martyn Wood 77); Josh Lewsey(2T), Fraser Waters (Ayoola Erinle 28-34), Stuart Abbott (Mark Denney 69), Kenny Logan; Alex King(3C, 5PG, 1DG)(MoM) (Ayoola Erinle 40-HT), Rob Howley; Craig Dowd (Ali McKenzie 75), Trevor Leota (Phil Greening 62), Will Green; Simon Shaw (Peter Scrivener 74), Richard Birkett; Joe Worsley(1T), Paul Volley (Mark Lock 73), Lawrence Dallaglio (capt).

Scoring sequence: 2' Lewsey (T) 0-5, King (C) 0-7, 4' Mercier (PG) 3-7, 9' King (PG) 3-10, 12' King (PG) 3-13, 19' King (PG) 3-16, 40' Lewsey (T) 3-21, King (C) 3-23, 43' King (PG) 3-26, 46' King (DG) 3-29, 52' King (PG) 3-32, 70' Worsley (T) 3-37, King (C) 3-39.

Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England).

Attendance: 42,000.

Gloucester supporters make their view known © PA Photos
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