Heineken Cup - Pool 2
Wasps edge out Leinster
January 17, 2009
Wasps celebrate as flanker Serge Betsen touches down for a first-half try at Twickenham
© Getty Images
London Wasps kept their Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes alive with a 19-12 victory over Leinster in a bruising Pool 2 clash at Twickenham.
Josh Lewsey produced a vintage performance thay inspired the Premiership side to victory but their Heineken Cup ambitions remain up in the air. Wasps could live to regret allowing Leinster to earn a losing bonus point by accepting a late shot at goal instead of pushing for a try which would have seen them take control of the pool.
As it stands now, Wasps must earn a better result in Castres next weekend than Leinster manage at home to Edinburgh in order to guarantee a place in the quarter-finals.
Wasps will be frustrated by the end result tonight about as much as they were frustrated to see uncontested scrums introduced after Leinster lost two props inside 37 minutes. By that point, Wasps had moved 16-6 ahead and scored the only try, finished by Serge Betsen but created by a lightning break from Lewsey and powerful run from his former England colleague Paul Sackey.
Lewsey retired from England duty after being overlooked during the November internationals but still has Lions ambitions and did his chances of selection no harm with an all-action display. But Wasps will be left kicking themselves after four penalties from Felipe Contempomi ensure Leinster remain favourites to qualify as pool winners.
The 30,000-plus attendance at Twickenham was three times the number Wasps could have housed at Adams Park and they certainly witnessed an action-packed afternoon, which included three three yellow cards but only 37 minutes of scrummaging. CJ van der Linde and Stan Wright both started after passing fitness tests - but neither lasted until the interval as Leinster, having been under the kosh up front throughout the first half, forced uncontested scrums.
On the back of that forward dominance and an electric performance from their back three, Wasps opened up a 10-point lead with Betsen's try and 11 points from Danny Cipriani. In blustery conditions, Cipriani started the game with two misses from relatively simple penalties before eventually finding his radar to push Wasps ahead.
Wasps surged further ahead with a blistering try finished by Betsen but owing everything to Lewsey's pace and vision and Sackey's power. Lewsey dummied a kick and burst past the stranded Leinster lock Leo Cullen before Sackey fended off three defenders - and when George Skivington was hauled down just short of the line Betsen collected the loose ball and dived over.
Leinster lost Van der Linde and Cullen in a double substitution after 18 minutes before Contepomi nudged them onto the scoreboard. Cipriani replied in kind before Leinster were reduced to 14 men when Kearney was sin-binned for his part in a scrap with Sackey after being tackled into touch.
Wasps took swift advantage with Lewsey crashing onto an inside pass from Cipriani and over the gainline before Haskell's determined run earned a simple penalty under the posts. The last seven minutes of the half was full of drama. Betsen was sin-binned for a cynical trip on Contepomi, who was chasing down the loose ball after Cipriani had dropped his second high ball of the evening.
Contempomi slotted the penalty but Leinster were back at full strength for barely a minute when Kearney was replaced in the sin-bin by Malcolm O'Kelly, who was despatched for an apparent stamp on Phil Vickery's head. A minute later, Wright left the field with ice on his neck and the match was reduced to uncontested scrums.
Contepomi pushed Leinster to within four points at 13-9 with the last kick of the first half and without any forward contest the game was a fractured affair after the interval. Contempomi and Cipriani exchanged penalties before Brian O'Driscoll returned from a spell in the blood-bin to inspire Leinster's best attacking period of the match.
Lewsey came close to scoring the try he deserved with another barnstorming run but Leinster kept him out with some determined defence. Wasps earned a kickable penalty three minutes from time and Vickery took the kick, which Dave Walder converted. It sealed the win but also gifted Leinster the losing bonus point.
With this vital victory now in the bank, Wasps boss Ian McGeechan will not let his side get ahead of themselves in going all-out for a bonus-point win against Castres next week.
"It is more realistic to say five points gives us the best chance of winning the group - but I would hate to go for five points and get none because you have to look across the pools," he said. "Our intention is to win the pool - but we have to go to Castres and win first and foremost and see what happens in Dublin."
McGeechan also said that the somewhat bizarre decision to take three points at the end was motivated by the side's desire to win at all costs.
"The decision was made on the field. We had been talking about winning first and there is another week's competition to go yet," said McGeechan. "They were thinking points on board and to make sure we got the win. The other side is, could we have gone for lineout? Shaun [Edwards, Wasps Head Coach] was keen to but the decision was made.
"Our first priority had to be winning. We couldn't think about anything else. As Lawrence [Dallaglio, Wasps director] reminded us, Wasps in the past have gone into games talking about getting five point and been blown out of water playing the wrong rugby. The first half we were playing well and we got the lead. Unfortunately the uncontested scrums then made the game a bit more loose and wishy washy and it lost its structure a bit."
Uncontested scrums came into force in the game due to injury striking Leinster props CJ van der Linde and Stan Wright, both of whom had passed late fitness tests."CJ has injured his foot again. He came good yesterday and we decided to start him. It is Stan Wright's neck," said Leinster boss Michael Cheika. "We had doubts up to yesterday but we made certain decisions. They obviously didn't all work out because CJ reinjured his foot almost immediately."
Cheika was disappointed that his side had not made the most of several attacking opportunities, but praised their determination to scrap back after an early Wasps' onslaught.
"We got hit early but we stayed on our feet and we got back into it," said Cheika. "We missed opportunities in the second half which probably cost us. We missed a goal which would have made it 16-15 and Rob Kearney's break, you have to take those opportunities.
"Conversely down the other end we made a game saving play when Josh Lewey made a break. I am disappointed we lost the game but we are still in charge of our own destiny although if we want to be sure of ourselves we need a bonus point next week."
Wasps: Van Gisbergen; Sackey, Waldouck, Flutey, Lewsey; Cipriani, Reddan; Payne, Webber, Vickery, Skivington, Birkett, Worsley, Betsen, Haskell.
Replacements: Voyce for Waldouck (66), Walder for Cipriani (70), Simpson for Reddan (80), Leo for Payne (66), Ward for Webber (29). Not Used: French, Ellis.
Sin Bin: Betsen (33).
Leinster: Kearney; Horgan, O'Driscoll, Contepomi, Fitzgerald; Nacewa, Whitaker; Wright, Jackman, van der Linde, Cullen, O'Kelly, Elsom, Jennings, Heaslip.
Replacements: D'Arcy for O'Driscoll (56), O'Brien for Wright (37), Fogarty for Jackman (73), Healy for van der Linde (18), Hogan for Cullen (18). Not Used: Keane, Dempsey.
Sin Bin: Kearney (26), O'Kelly (37).
Man of the Match: Josh Lewsey (Wasps)
Ref: C Berdos (France).