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Some games are remembered and some games forgotten, the London Wasps v Munster Heineken Cup semi-final at Lansdowne will be one of those remembered for a very long time. A game that saw seven tries being scored, and the lead change numerous times, this win for Wasps could go down as one of the greatest in the club’s history.
Wasps moved into the final with an emphatic 37-32 win and in doing so, set up a mouth-watering clash against Toulouse at Twickenham. The game was played in perfect conditions in front of 48’000 people, 3’000 of them Wasps fans. The team and travelling fans took up their places on the field and in the stands respectively, amongst an ocean of red jerseys and chanting Munster supporters.
The game itself was end-to-end stuff with Ronan O’ Gara landing the first penalty of the day after only a minute of play. However, it didn’t take long for Wasps to hit back and that came from a try from England international Josh Lewsey. The winger found space out-wide and made light work of the Munster defence to score the first try of the afternoon. Alex King slotted the conversion and Wasps led 7-3.
O’ Gara landed a further two penalties and King another one to take the score to 10-9 still in favour of Wasps but the writing was clearly on the wall - if Wasps were going to give away penalties, the game would surely be Munster’s.
A major turning point in the game happened when O’ Gara was injured and could not resume duty amongst his backs. His replacement was Jason Holland. On 34-minutes, referee Nigel Williams sent Joe Worsley to the sin-bin for ten minutes for an infringement in a ruck. Holland stepped up to land the resulting penalty and for the first time in the match Munster had the lead.
With a man, and 10-12 down, Wasps had their backs to the wall but somehow came up trumps with a try from Paul Volley. To be fair, the try was made after Rob Howley charged down his opposite number’s clearance. The scrumhalf picked up and drove on towards the line with Volley in support. The pass came and the flanker was over to score the second try of the match. King’s conversion made it 17-12 which silenced the crowd a little. The good thing was that Warren Gatland’s side were punching holes and scoring tries through the Munster defence, the bad thing was that they were conceding tries and another Holland penalty took the sides in at 17-15.
After the break and still a man down, Wasps hit back with another try, this time from Mark Van Gisbergen. The flying Kiwi-Dutchman (He’s a New Zealander with a Dutch passport) darted in to score in the corner. It was just the start Wasps needed to take further stranglehold of the game. King unfortunately missed the conversion but Wasps opened a seven-point lead at 22-15. However, it seemed everytime Wasps scored a try, they conceded a penalty, which kept Munster in touch and still in the game. Holland added his third penalty of the game to bring his side closer at 22-18.
On 52-minutes, Wasps were hit with another problem as Fraser Waters was yellow carded for an infringement. To be honest, he was unlucky to spend 10-minutes in the cooler but there was not much Wasps could do. His absence caused a major hole in the Wasps defence and it didn’t take long before Munster had their first try of the game. It came from the No.8 Anthony Foley, who was on hand to pick up a loose ball and scramble over for the try. Holland was never going to miss the conversion and Munster had the lead back at 22-25. Three minutes later with Waters still off, Munster stretched their lead to 10-points after their captain Jim Williams forced his way over. Holland’s conversion made it 22-32 and Wasps were staring down the barrel of defeat. Something had to happen and fast as time was slowly ticking away. With ten-minutes left, the stadium broke out in Irish chorus. For the 3’000 odd Wasps fans, the thought of defeat slowly entered their minds. However, Wasps are not champions of England for nothing and somehow Lawrence Dallaglio rallied his troops to find yet another gear and claw back the ten-points. These final moments of the game would see Munster implode as both Donncha O’ Callaghan and Rob Henderson were yellow carded within minutes. This allowed King to slot his second penalty to make it 25-32 and for Wasps to push on knowing Munster were exposed.
Tom Voyce, who had several chances in the game to score tries, ran in from 30m out to score Wasps’ fourth try of the game. It was a blistering run that took him under the poles for the easy conversion. At 32-all it was game on, and amazingly Wasps had a second chance to put this game away.
The fifth and final try came from Trevor Leota, who found himself on the wing. Howley saw that the blindside was exposed and the big Samoan dived in to score. The referee went to the television match official to make sure of it but there was no doubt that he scored the winning try. King missed the conversion but Wasps now had the lead at 37-32 and were never going to surrender it. The final whistle went, and for the first time in the club’s history, Wasps will be going to the Heineken Cup Final.