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London Wasps’ defence of their European title came to an abrupt and disappointing end after the side was beaten 18-15 by Biarritz Olympique in France. Chasing a bonus point victory was always going to be a formidable task against a quality side like Biarritz, but the 2003/04 champions made a go of it but sadly came up short.
The game, played in glorious sunshine, was an exciting one that saw both sides, score two tries. After a drop-goal from Damien Traille opened the scoring for the home side, Wasps hit back immediately with a well-worked try from Ayoola Erinle. Sustained pressure from the Wasps pack saw them camped in their opponents 22m area and when Matt Dawson sent the ball down the backs, the try was always on. Erinle bashed his way through the tackles and scored the opening try of the match. Mark Van Gisbergen missed the conversion but Wasps had the lead and an early try they so desperately wanted.
However, that try seemed to spur on the home side as within minutes French international, Imanol Harinordoquy, scored his side’s first try. It came from a powerful driving maul and for the first time in the match, Biarritz flexed some muscle and showed just how powerful their pack was. Not only did they show some powerful scrums, but also some brilliant distance kicking from both Traille and his scrumhalf Dimitri Yachville.
The match also saw Stuart Abbott collide with Serge Besten and the England centre was left reeling on the ground with a broken right leg. To his credit, Abbott tried to stand up but collapsed to the floor in pain. The ‘crack’ of the bone could be heard from the sidelines and the centre was immediately taken to hospital. He will be out of action for the rest of the season. Rob Hoadley replaced him. The injury to Abbott will be a concern for Warren Gatland as he is the third centre to be ruled out with injury following Fraser Waters and Peter Richards.
Wasps did however, come close to scoring another try in the first half when Dawson came within inches of dotting down. A typical Van Gisbergen charge up the middle saw the Kiwi find some space to offload to Dawson who raced away towards the line but was smothered in a pile of red and white Biarritz shirts before he could get the ball down. Referee Alain Rolland, referred the decision to the Television Match Official who ruled ‘no try’. Dawson did admit after the game that he was held up by the defenders and had no complaints about the decision.
The remainder of the first half saw Van Gisbergen slot a penalty that levelled the scores at 8-all.
The second half saw Wasps go hunting for opportunities to score but stern defence and unfortunate errors led to Biarritz gaining control of the game. Their second try came from Jimmy Marlu who broke the line from deep and which in turn broke the hearts of the 700 travelling Wasps fans. The conversion was no problem for Yachvili and at 18-8, Wasps’ dream of retaining the Heineken Cup was fast fading away. Once a team like Biarritz gets their noses in front, they are very difficult to beat.
Wasps did manage to score a late try from Tim Payne but it was not enough as Biarritz held on for the 18-15 win and dumped Wasps out of the Heineken Cup.
Warren Gatland said: “We are very disappointed at having lost, but Biarritz are a very tough side to beat at home, let alone score four tries against. This pool was always going to be difficult to come out of, and sadly it’s the defending champions who have to suffer. However, all we can do now is concentrate on winning our third Zurich Premiership title.
“I would also like to say thanks to the 700 fans that travelled to Biarritz. It’s fantastic to see so many Wasps fans coming to these sorts of games. It really shows what a great club we have.
Tries: Harinordoquy, Marlu
Tries: Erinle, Payne
Pen: Van Gisbergen
Man of Match: