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London Wasps magnificent defensive performance ensured them victory over Castres and a home quarter final as they recorded a 13-16 win at the Stade Pierre Antoine on Saturday.
In the face of a physical and accomplished Castres pack, Wasps big names stood up to be counted. Joe Worsley turned in a magnificent performance, tackling his heart out for the full 80 minutes, whilst Vickery and Shaw showed strength and guile as the French team turned up the heat up front in the second half, Dallaglio and Ibanez also leading from the front, bringing all their experience and composure to the party.
But it was from behind the pack from that all Wasps points came, with a try from Tom Voyce and a conversion, two penalties and a drop goal from Alex King keeping Wasps noses ahead until the final whistle.
Thanks to King's two penalties and drop goal in the opening quarter of an hour, Castres were always chasing the game. However, athough Wasps retained control for much of the first half, Castres number 10 Cameron McIntyre took his chances when Wasps were penalised for coming in at the side to bring the score back to 9-6 at half time. Indeed, the home side had their chances to go in front, but Gordon Ross, coming in a fly half for the injured McIntyre in first half injury time, missing with two more penalty attempts before the turn around.
Wasps had had the edge in the close exchanges for the first forty minutes, despite Castres fielding a muscular and experienced pack. The second half started however, with Wasps handling looking suspect and Eoin Reddan lucky to escape with the benefit of the doubt when he hung on to Castres'full back, Teulet after the Frenchman had got away a promising looking chip down the touch line.
Castres were on the front foot and looking dangerous, Kefu starting to find some holes in the Wasps defensive line. However, when scrum half Laussucq's little break had once again got Wasps scrambling in defence, lock Simon Shaw struck out an extendable paw to block the Castres man's pass, and as the ball cannoned into another Castres player, Man of the Match Raphael Ibanez was on hand to scoop up the loose ball and launch Tom Voyce on a counter attack. The Wasps flyer cut back inside and was clean away, enjoying a clear run to the line to touchdown between the posts.King's conversion extended Wasps lead to ten, but Castres regrouped and the forwards doubled their efforts as Ross's boot gave them an attacking platform in the Wasps 22.
Wasps pack defended manfully, and rebuffed the Castres catch and drive from close range on two consecutive occasions, but the third proved too much, Gordon Ross converting Pascal Pape's try to claw his team back to 13-16 with 25 minutes remaining.
With their lead cut too close for comfort, Wasps contrived to create two good try scoring opportunities in the final quarter. First Ibanez burst through the middle of a fine driving maul from his fellow forwards, and galloped away into the Castres 22.As the hooker was tackled, swift Wasps support ensured quick ball from the breakdown for replacement flanker Dan Leo to cut back inside and threaten the line, but his offload couldn't find Josh Lewsey and Castres won a scrum from a Wasps knock on.
With his team having won good territory, Alex King took his chance to kick another drop goal in the 65th minute, but his effort grazed the outside of the post. A long range penalty attempt minutes later was also agonisingly close, the ball dropping just short at the post.
With five minutes remaining, Danny Cipriani spotted space to counter attack after he gathered a long kick into the Wasps 22. His judgment was good and he made ground into the Castres half, but with support and space available, the young full back left it just too late to pass out of contact and Castres' recovering defence was able to snuff out the threat.
With five minutes remaining, the French team came back hard through their forwards, and it took discipline and guts from all fifteen of Wasps men to contain the onslaught, Ibanez and Lewsey in particular saving their team with a heroic defensive effort after a dangerous attack from Kefu and Vooslu.
Castres replacement Bias also got in on the act, muscling over the line after his team had counter attacked from a Wasps clearance, but Dallaglio and Leo combined to hold up him up over the line and win back possession for their team.
From there, experience ruled as Wasps stuck the ball up their jumpers and retained possession to run down the clock for the remaining five minutes of injury time and claim the victory, and with it a home quarter final at the end of March.
After the game, Man of the Match Raphael Ibanez said, 'This is a great result for us today, fantastic for the players and the supporters of Wasps.
'It was a tough game, but we were focussed and patient, and played with experience and composure.
'We stayed strong in defence in front of our goal line and showed team spirit to close out the game after conceding a try to let Castres back into the game in the second half.'
Referee: Alun Lewis (Ire)
Man of the Match: Raphael Ibanez