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London Wasps got there Heineken Cup season off to a winning start with a hard fought 25-12 win over Biarritz Olympique. Joe Worsley scored the only try of the match, which took Wasps into an unassailable lead for the victory and set the ball in motion for Wasps’ defence of their European crown.
The first half was rather scrappy with both sides guilty of silly handling errors. Wasps in particular seemed to spill the ball at vital stages when trying to put together a good phase of play. This led to the build up of some frustrating moments for Warren Gatland’s side that unfortunately resulted in penalties being given away.
Biarritz scrumhalf, Dimitri Yachvili, landed the first points of the afternoon with an easy penalty but was followed by Mark Van Gisbergen.
The first 20-minutes saw both sides showing small glimpses of what everyone came to see, but they never resulted in anything significant. It took an attacking burst from flyhalf Alex King to set the ball rolling and get the crowd going. King found a hole in the Biarritz defence and exploited it, which allowed him to set-up Tom Voyce to almost finish off in the corner. Unfortunately, the Television Match Official judged that Biarritz fullback, Nicolas Brusque, had done enough to force Voyce out when diving for the line, so the try was not given.
Just before the half-hour mark, the visitors extended their lead to another three points with a drop-goal from centre Damien Traille. However, minutes later Van Gisbergen levelled the scores with a good long-range penalty to make it six-all. Then in the space of three minutes, Wasps gave the French side two penalties, which Yachvili banged over from a good distance out.
Trailing 6-12, and approaching half-time, Wasps were forced to dig deep and come up with something to claw back the score. This came in the form of Matt Dawson setting up Josh Lewsey to come within meters of the tryline. Dawson, who was retuning to the side following a hamstring strain, drew the Biarritz backline towards himself with a run from a ruck which gave him space for an inside pop-pass to Lewsey, which gave the winger the opening to gallop away towards the line. Lewsey was brought down but the resulting recycled ball gave King the chance to slot his first drop-goal of the game. This narrowed the score to 9-12 and referee Alan Lewis blew for half-time.
The second half saw Wasps up the tempo and take the game to Biarritz. Craig Dowd came on for Will Green after 48-minutes and Wasps seemed to be finding their rhythm.
Biarritz were now struggling to live with the pace of the game and saw their only decent attacking opportunities being kicked away downfield by flyhalf Julien Peyrelongue. While in the first half they looked promising and deserved the led, the second half was completely opposite with some negative play being shown in wayward unnecessary kicking. This led to mistakes, one of which saw them blown up for crossing and Van Gisbergen punished them with his third penalty of the match. This tied the scores at 12-all and Dallaglio’s men smelled Biarritz starting to waver.
Wasps were now on a high and new this was their chance to strike and it came from a second drop-goal from King. This allowed the champions to take the lead for the first time in the game. At 15-12 and with their noses in front, Wasps pressed on and Van Gisbergen added a fourth penalty that made it 18-12. This pushed the self-destruction for Biarritz which saw French international, Serge Betsen, yellow carded on the hour mark for a repeated offence in the ruck. Van Gisbergen missed the resulting penalty but with a man in the sin-bin, it was a question of how long the visitors could hold on before conceding a try.
The answer to that was not very long as some good running from Ayoola Erinle, taking Wasps over the advantage line, allowed the forwards to set-up Worsley who crashed over for the try. The conversion was added and at 25-12 it was game over.
The closing moments of the game saw Yachvili yellow carded as well; this time referee Lewis adjudged too much use of the boot. The allowed the team to close out the game and secure the vital four points for a win.
Dawson was named Man of the Match, his first in Wasps colours.
Gatland said: “I thought Matt was outstanding. He has taken a bit of time but he has now really taken to the challenge and he performed well. I felt in the end we won comfortably, even if it was an ugly win.
London Wasps scorers:
Con: Van Gisbergen
Pen: Van Gisbergen 4
DG: King 2
Biarritz Olympique scorers:
Pen: Yachvili 4
Van Gisbergen: 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen; X pen; 0 con.
Yachvili: 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen.
Man of Match:
Alan Lewis (Ire)