Wasps v Cardiff Blues, ECC semi-final, May 1
Wounded Wasps call on Walder
April 30, 2010
Dave Walder has got the nod ahead of Danny Cipriani for Wasps © Getty Images
Wasps and Cardiff Blues are a step away from the final of the European Challenge Cup, and the clubs carry the hopes of England and Wales on their shoulders.
As the last teams from either country left in a European competition they can strike a positive note at the end of a difficult season. The Blues, descendents of the only Welsh side to make a Heineken Cup final, Cardiff RFC in 1996, are out to break their European duck and will be spurred on by memories of their agonising penalty shootout exit from the Heineken Cup at this stage of last season.
Wasps have for so long been the masters of knockout rugby, reigning supreme domestically and in Europe when the pressure is on. Under Warren Gatland and Ian McGeechan they forged a reputation as ruthless practitioners in the closing stages of competitions, but under Tony Hanks their steely edge has been sadly missing.
They were humbled 35-19 by Bath, who are doing an excellent impression of Wasps circa 2004 in the run up to the Premiership play-offs, in their big Twickenham day out last weekend and will get no favours from a Blues side in fine fettle as the sharp end of the season approaches.
Hanks has gone for the steadying hand of Dave Walder at fly-half, meaning that Danny Cipriani will have to hope for a shot off the bench if he is to put the record straight following a costly intercept pass last time out. Joe Simpson takes the No.9 jersey and will need to be on guard against the aggressive Blues back-row and midfield combo.
Jamie Roberts and Casey Laulala have shaken off their recent injury worries and start in the centre for Cardiff but there is bad news at scrum-half, where Darren Allinson is the only fit No.9 at the club following Richie Rees' failure to overcome an ankle problem.
Joe Worsley has been given the nod at blindside for Wasps and will want to nullify the threat of Roberts as he did in England's Millennium Stadium defeat to Wales in 2009. That day he also slowed the charge of Andy Powell, but will this time face the in-form Xavier Rush and Maama Molitika as Powell's calf problem rules him out of a spot at blindside. Tom Rees leads Wasps from openside and faces the wily veteran Martyn Williams, with young pretender Sam Warburton warming the Blues' bench.
Simon Shaw will again roll back the years in the Wasps' engine room, alongside George Skivington, with the visitors opting for the experience of skipper Paul Tito and Deiniol Jones over the youthful brawn of Wales international Bradley Davies. Up front for Wasps Phil Vickery will make his first start since his return from neck surgery.
"Cardiff's form since Christmas suggests that they're playing with great confidence and utilising the full depth of their very talented squad," Hanks said. "The international quality is evident throughout their team, with some of the best players that Wales has to offer and some hugely exciting southern hemisphere talents.
"Wasps have a very proud record in this competition, and we're extremely focused on maintaining that presence in Europe. Winning trophies is what drives this group intensely. It's something that, as a club, we've done very well over the last decade - but it's not something we take for granted and this group of players is determined to establish its own legacy."
Blues boss Dai Young is hoping that his side can again produce the goods on the road after thrashing Newcastle at Kingston Park in their quarter-final clash.
"We are all excited to be in a European semi final again but we know that playing Wasps away is going to be a difficult match," he said. "They have real pedigree in Europe having won both the Amlin and the Heineken Cups and they still have star players and a ruthless edge. However, we've played some of our best rugby on the road this season so we will be looking to carry that form into Saturday's match."
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, B Jacobs, D Waldouck, D Lemi; D Walder, J Simpson; T Payne, R Webber, P Vickery, S Shaw, G Skivington, J Worsley, T Rees [capt], D Ward-Smith
Replacements: T Lindsay, B Baker, S Taulafo, J Hart, S Betsen, D Cipriani, S Kefu, T Varndell
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala, J Roberts, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, D Allinson; G Jenkins, T Thomas, F Filise, D Jones, P Tito [capt], M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush
Replacements: G Williams, J Yapp, S Andrews, B Davies, S Warburton, D Flanagan, D Hewitt, R Mustoe