English Premiership final 2004
Wasps do it the hard way
May 29, 2004
London Wasps 10 - 6 Bath
For the second year running Wasps have come through the playoffs to win the Zurich championship without ever leading the league table.
But any other resemblance to last year's massacre of Gloucester was coincidental. Bath pushed Wasps to the limit, and were pressing hard on their line when the final whistle was blown after nine minutes of injury time. What the victory that brought them their second trophy in six days, and their fifth in a year, did resemble, down to an identical scoreline, was Wasps' league victory over Bath at the Rec in February.
Not for the first time, Wasps showed themselves to be most dangerous when the other team has the ball. The decisive score came in the 63rd minute as a Bath midfield attack was disrupted, a pass ran loose and Wasps were much quicker to react.
Ex-Bath man Tom Voyce, an attacking force throughout the second half, picked up and surged down the left before sending Stuart Abbott away to score. Mark van Gisbergen converted. Even before that score, Wasps had looked more dangerous than in a tense first half, with several sweeping assaults endangering the Bath line.
Three points down at half-time, they equalised in the first minute with a drive down the right from skipper Lawrence Dallaglio setting up a drop-goal for King. Eight minutes later Bath reclaimed the lead as Michael Lipman stole a Wasps line-out at the tail and Chris Malone landed the drop from 35 metres.
Wasps had struggled throughout on their own line-out, but stabilised once Ben Gotting had replaced Trevor Leota. Aware that an hour of control had brought only limited results, Bath started looking for further drop-goals but Malone and Mike Catt - a last minute substitute for the absurdly unlucky Matt Perry, who injured an ankle in the warm-up, both missed in the space of a minute and two minutes later Abbott was stretching away for the vital score.
Bath had enjoyed the bulk of first half possession, but like all opponents of Wasps found it exceptionally difficult to turn their advantage into points. It was not that they did anything wrong. Their forwards had a clear edge, particularly in the line-out where Steve Borthwick controlled his own put-in and regularly threatened Wasps'. Outside-half Chris Malone, preferred to England incumbent Olly Barkley, kicked well for position. But with the ball in hand they experienced the same problems that have afflicted Munster, Toulouse and Northampton in recent weeks.
On any number of occasions Bath won clean possession and controlled it through several phases, only to make little or no downfield progress as Wasps denied them space and drove them back at the breakdown. Malone opened the scoring with a sixth minute penalty, and should have extended Bath's lead with a 20-yarder in the 15th minute after Paul Volley had been trapped over the ball at a ruck close to the Wasps line.
But, perhaps aware that both Northampton and Toulouse had led Wasps by six points in the first 15 minutes only to undergo a fearful backlash, he curled an apparently simple kick wide. The rest of the half was pointless, but anything but purposeless - its competitiveness epitomised by a physical confrontation between scrum-halves Howley and Wood.
While short on possession, Wasps greater speed meant that they always threatened from broken play and they appeared to have scored a typically pressure-induced try when Howley intercepted after 23 minutes. But he was brought back for an earlier offence, and Bath led 3-0 at the break.