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London Wasps slid to defeat with a second disappointing performance in as many weeks in the second round of the Heineken Cup against USA Perpignan at the Stade Aime Giral on Sunday.
Though last week Wasps were able to cling on for a victory against a less tenacious side, Perpignan took an early lead, from where ferocious defence from the French and error-ridden attack from Wasps combined to allow the Frenchmen to celebrate a win at the final whistle.
Wasps were on the back foot from the kick off, when scrum half Nicolas Durand sent a kick bobbling to the corner that Paul Sackey was unable to deal with, handing the French forwards a five metre line out. Wasps repelled the initial catch and drive, and a further snipe for the line from Durand was contained by a great tackle from Joe Worsley, but a final drive around the fringe was too much for the Wasps defence as flanker Ovidiu Tonita drove over to touch down and give his side a dream start.
Jeremy Staunton got Wasps on the scoreboard not long after with a penalty to pull the score back to 7-3, but Steve Meyer pulled his side away again with his first penalty after a late challenge on Gavin Hume by Josh Lewsey, for which the Wasps man was lucky not to receive a yellow card.Wasps were already showing signs of the lack of rhythm that was to dog their game for the rest of the 80 minutes, but approaching the end of the first quarter had their best chance yet. Having created an overlap, Tom Voyce attempted a pass outside to Van Gisbergen, but Perpignan full back Julien Laharrague intercepted which what looked like a deliberate knock on, though referee Donal Courtney did not penalise the Frenchman for the offence.
A further exchange of penalties maintained the distance between the teams, but a late hit on Eoin Reddan as the game entered first half injury time, converted by Staunton, suggested that Wasps would turn around just four points behind at 13-9. However, referee Courtney found some more time on the clock, and after Tom Palmer crashed into Laharrague when going up to challenge for a high ball, the referee awarded another penalty to the French, whereupon Meyer restored the seven point deficit at the half way mark.
Josh Lewsey was forced from the pitch with a knee injury early in the second half, replace by Alex King, and with Ayoola Erinle already on for Van Gisbergen, who was groggy after a knock to the head received before half time, Staunton stepped in to full back whilst King took on the 10 role.
Wasps then enjoyed possibly their best spell of the game. Tom Voyce found a gap through the ten channel, coming from blind to open, and only Durand's diving tap tackle prevented him from racing to the line. Shortly after Fraser Waters galloped away on the counter attack, but as the cover defence forced him wide, the support was lacking and the attack fizzled out.
As the game entered the last ten minutes, referee Courtney showed Staunton a yellow card for a professional foul, which was harsh considering the lack of cards thus far in the contest, but Laharrague showed no clemency in slotting the penalty for a 19-9 lead.
However, Dallaglio's men fought on with spirit and threw all they had at Perpignan as the clock ticked down, the pressure leading to a fourth Wasps penalty, with which King making no mistake. Wasps continued to attack, though the handling was frantic rather than assured, and when the opportunity came in injury time - Wasps having created an overlap - the inevitable fumble put an end to their hopes.
On his side's performance, Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan said: "We made a lot of errors, which is very frustrating for us. We controlled 65 to 70 percent of the game and the way it was played, but we just kept making mistakes. It meant they didn't have to work too hard to get the ball.
"We're certainly still in it, though. Coming out of the pool is still doable, but we were hoping the first try after only two minutes wouldn't come back to haunt us, and it did. It was poor defending from the kick-off, and that was what made the difference in the end."
"We had a lot of chances in the last 10 minutes, but we just weren't able to put it away. All we needed was that one try to get back into the driving seat.
"I think we were a bit conservative early on in the game and we'd actually talked about being the opposite in the run-up to the match.
"It became clear that we weren't going to win the game, but coming away with the bonus point was very important."
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio said, 'We got off to the worst possible start, giving them seven points. At this level that was a fairly soft seven points, but it gave them some early confidence and ultimately that was the difference between the two sides.
'However, we failed to do the simple things right and dropped a lot of ball at times when we should have been putting them under a lot more pressure.
'The big positive though is that we've got a bonus point from the game'.
Referee: Donal Courtney (Ireland)