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London Wasps booked their place in the 2007 Heineken Cup Final with a 30-13 win over Northampton Saints at Coventry's Ricoh Arena on Sunday.
Although earmarked as the overwhelming favourites to win the game, Wasps did make heavy weather of their victory, starting by conceding an early try. Two further penalties for Saints' try scoring captain Reihana and Wasps found themselves trailing 13-0 after a quarter of an hour.
Despite having the lion's share of possession and territory, and making a mess of Northampton in the set piece, Wasps could not find the way to the try line until the 33rd minute, when Paul Sackey juggled the ball over in the corner. The Londoners were perhaps in danger of playing too much rugby and Saints, in contrast, after that initial flurry that put Reihana over in the corner after a line break from Sean Lamont, lacked an attacking edge for the majority of the game. Though Wasps trailed 13-8 at the break, a successful completion of the comeback that Sackey had started was feeling likely.
Replacement No8 James Haskell's try in the 58th minute put Wasps ahead for the first time, and further scores for Sackey and Josh Lewsey sewed up the win as Saints tired under the unremitting pressure in the final quarter.
However, after Saint's early strike Wasps were lacking the accuracy that would produce a score. They were enjoying a good share of possession, and making a real mess of the Saints pack at scrum time, but in loose play Wasps looked to be lacking composure and shape.
When they played with patience, McGeechan's team looked threatening though, and after a good build up Danny Cipriani looked to have hit back for Wasps. Referee Alan Lewis was unsure, and went upstairs to check the grounding, whereupon fourth official David McHugh ruled that the ball had nicked the touch line when the young fly half had grounded the ball when he dived over.A rare penalty in Wasps favour, though Saints back row were working hard to slow the ball down at the breakdown, allowed Mark Van Gisbergen to get Wasps off the mark just before the half hour mark, and then Sackey followed that up with his try five minutes later. The attack started with a powerful rolling maul - a move that was to become a familiar part of Wasps play as the game wore on - and when the drive started to slow Joe Worsley attacked the line. A magnificent tackle from Mark Robinson denied him the score, but as the ball was presented Eoin Reddan lobbed a pass to Sackey, who held on to dab the ball down in the corner.
The opening of the second half threatened to frustrate Wasps supporters with more of the same, as errors in attack prevented McGeechan's men from building a cohesive attack. However, a second penalty for Van Gisbergen drew Wasps back to within two points after Saints flanker Ben Lewitt was shown a yellow card for killing the ball, and with a man advantage for the next ten minutes, Wasps took their opportunity to up the tempo.
Cipriani kicked for touch when referee Lewis awarded Wasps a further penalty, and from a line out on the 22 Wasps pack drove all the way to the try line, where Haskell touched down amongst the heap of bodies, though once again it took the TMO to confirm the score.
Carlos Spencer's restart kick, as the hour mark ticked past, gave Saints their first possession in Wasps 22 since the start of the second half, and after remaining focussed in defence they embarked on a more conservative approach with the forwards setting up a good platform from which Cipriani could orchestrate the backs. He obliged, and as Wasps moved the ball quickly from one side of the pitch to the other, Paul Sackey jinked his way through a scrambling Saints defence to score Wasps third try of the day, though he felt the knee of the returning Lewitt on his head as the flanker slid in after Sackey had touched down.
Lewitt was lucky to stay on the pitch, and Wasps capitalised on the penalty referee Lewis awarded from the restart to attack again. Sackey's fellow speed merchants Tom Voyce and Josh Lewsey were conspicuous in giving Wasps the go forward as the defending Saints tired after being tasked with defending for the majority of the previous 70 minutes, and it was Lewsey who finished off a slick Wasps move to touch down in the corner four minutes from time. Lewsey showed his delight in scoring after he had played like a man possessed since coming on to replace Dominic Waldouck in the 47th minute.
Van Gisbergen's touch line conversion sealed the win for Wasps, who now face Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham on Sunday 20th May, kick off 2.30pm.
On reaching the final, captain Lawrence Dallaglio said, 'I'm very, very pleased indeed. It's going to be a worthy final between two teams who have dominated the professional era of the game.'
Looking back at the game, Dallaglio said, 'We were guilty of not being direct enough and not holding on to the ball well enough in the first 30 or so minutes. After falling to a sucker punch early in the match, where we didn't defend well, we were frustrated and felt that it was only a matter of time before we took the lead. I think that showed as the game wore on and I was pretty pleased with the way we played in the second half.'
Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan agreed, 'We were always expecting a torrid first half, and I was very pleased that when we went behind, nobody panicked. Once we got our basics going well and built some momentum, then we just had to be patient until the opportunities came. In that respect I thought in the second half we were excellent.'