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Munster at Thomond one week, top of the table Gloucester at Kingsholm the next. There have been easier Januaries. But this was Wasps last game with a full compliment before the Six Nations begins next week and, signalling the resumption of Premiership action, this game was crucial to Wasps ambitions of climbing into the top four by the end of the season.
James Buckland Kicks v Gloucester (A) 26/01/2008
Climb the table they did, but this 18-17 defeat meant only by one place and only for one night. Newcastle's mauling by the Tigers means they drop to 9th, but London Irish climb to 7th after winning at Leeds on Sunday, Wasps remaining in 8th. Click here to see the league table
It was a brave comeback though. Wasps were trailing 18-3 early in the second half, thanks to Ryan Lamb's return of six from six with the boot in the first 45 minutes. In this respect he outshone his opposite number Danny Cipriani who, playing into the wind in the first half, could manage only one from four. Whilst those misses were expensive, it must be said that none of Cipriani's opportunities were easy, and when it came to the battle of tactical kicking from hand, he outshone Lamb considerably.
Cipriani's kicking ensured the visitors matched their hosts territorially in the first half, but Wasps forwards were struggling to adapt to referee Dave Pearson's Guinness Premiership interpretation of the laws at the breakdown. Whereas last week in Ireland, Wasps had battled in what Lawrence Dallaglio called a 'free for all', this week Mr Pearson was allowing no contest, and the result was a first 50 minutes of stop start rugby in which Wasps found themselves too often on the wrong side of the law. So, penalties a-plenty for Lamb, the majority of the possession for his team and, when Mr Pearson's patience ran out, a 20 minute period in which Wasps played with 14 men all contributed to Gloucester's 18-3 lead.
James Haskell Gloucester (A) 26/01/2008
And it could have been more, but for Wasps' alacrity in defence. As ever, Fraser Waters led the Wasps defensive line with energetic physicality, and alertness from the back three and an excellent cover defence ensured that two good chances for Ian Balshaw, either side of half time, were unceremoniously halted.
With Haskell sin-binned for the ten minutes leading up to half time, and Palmer replacing him for the ten minutes after the break, it was no surprise that this was Gloucester's best period. They threatened ' notably those two chances for Balshaw, and a break from Tindall setting up a series of five metre scrums for the cherry and white faithful in the Shed to bray on, but ultimately Gloucester blew them both.
Up until this point, Wasps had not been without moments of their own, though attacks tended to lack fluency as too often the referee would penalise Wasps for playing the ball on the floor just as the attack was gaining some momentum. However David Doherty, who is running into a good vein of form and in this, his third good performance in succession, looked dangerous every time he got the ball. Also prominent was England reject Josh Lewsey, who showed the England management just what an exciting, attacking runner they are missing with a belligerent display from full back.
But it was the a lovely run from Simpson Daniel, deep into Wasps 22 and leading to Lamb's simple pot for goal in front of the posts, that proved the turning point in the match.
James Buckland scores try v Gloucester (A) 26/01/2008
At 18-3 down, Palmer returned to bring Wasps back to full compliment, and shortly after Lamb himself was banished from the pitch after diving over to kill the ball as Wasps mounted a counter attack. Cipriani kicked for the corner, and a nifty little front peel at the line out allowed Tom Rees to come round and time his pass beautifully to replacement hooker James Buckland for a simple finish. With the wind at his back, Cipriani had no problems slotting the wide conversion and Wasps were back within arms length.
There followed for Wasps their best period of the game. Finally able to keep on the right side of Mr Pearson at the breakdown, they were patient in their build up and Dominic Waldouck was able to take advantage of a ragged defensive line to glide through for Wasps second try. Cipriani again made no mistake and with fifteen minutes remaining, Wasps had time to manufacture a win.
And they came close. Josh Lewsey's run from deep saw him slash through the fringes of a ruck on a pop ball, and a great smuggle to scrum half McMillan gave the attack legs. Hart in support got well into the Gloucester 22 before being dragged down and the forwards set about building a platform. This they did, though Phil Vickery at stand off could not get through the gap in time, but nevertheless quick ball was on its way to Haskell on the far left. With the scramble defence maxed out in bringing Haskell down, a score was on, but Pearson adjudged Haskell had held on and with the last roll of the dice Wasps had come up just short. Gloucester's forwards, too streetwise to do anything except hold on to possession, ran down the final two minutes with the ball firmly up their cherry and whites to cling on to victory at the final whistle.
'We are very disappointed,' said Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan after the match. 'Discipline cost us a bit in the first half, as we played 20 minutes with 14 men, but in the second half we played with more composure, and with a little more fortune in a couple of decisions we could have been walking away with a win.
'I am very proud of the way we played though, and I thought there was some outstanding work out there today. I'm pleased with the rugby that we played and percentage wise I thought we did well as a team.'
Doherty in the thick of it! Gloucester (A) 26/01/2008
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio felt, 'We fronted up well, but ultimately our discipline cost us, and I am disappointed about that. Last week we played with a Celtic referee, who allowed a free for all at the breakdown, but this week there was no contest being allowed at the breakdown and we did not adapt quickly enough to that change.'
Head Coach Shaun Edwards pointed out, 'We had eight international missing today, and we scored two tries to nil. But sometimes you don't get what you deserve in life.'
On full back Lewsey, Edwards said, 'Josh was highly motivated for this game, and England must be a good team if he can't get in it.
Defending another England hopeful, Danny Cipriani, McGeechan said, 'Danny was kicking into the wind and on the end of his range for the penalties he missed, and if anything he probably tried to hit them too hard. But Ryan Lamb didn't make the same mistakes, so there are no excuses.'
And on Wasps chances of reaching the top four by May, McGeechan said, ''We have got to play like we did in the second half today in every game from now on. If we can keep that edge, I have no doubt we can make the top four.'
Referee: Dave Pearson