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London Wasps booked a place in the quarterfinals of the Powergen Cup after beating the Bristol Shoguns 43-33 after 100-minutes of rugby. It took a try from flanker, Tom Rees, in the second half of extra time to secure the victory and put Wasps into the next round.
The game was played in very cold conditions at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol but it didn’t take long before things heated up. Mark Van Gisbergen and Jason Strange exchanged early penalties to make it 3-all after less than ten minutes. Then the first try of the game came after the restart from James Brooks saw the ball bounce around and allow the Wasps forwards the opportunity to start a rolling maul. The ball was ripped away from Alistair McKenzie who ran on, got tackled but did well to offload to scrumhalf Harvey Biljon who scored. Mark Van Gisbergen converted to make it 10-3.
Just after the first quarter, a punch-up broke out between the two front rows and referee Tony Spreadbury was in no mood to mess about and sent Henry Nwume to the sin-bin for ten minutes. While he was off, Stuart Abbott pulled up with a tight hamstring and was replaced by Peter Richards. Early indications are that he will be okay and it was only precautionary to bring him off.
The home side’s first try came on the half-hour mark when No.8 Jim Brownrigg, found a big hole in the Wasps defence and scored what would be called a soft try from a Wasps perspective. The conversion from Strange levelled the scores to 10-all and for the first time in the match, the home fans had something to shout about.
However, as they drew level, Wasps hit back with a superb try from former Bristol player, Josh Lewsey. It came after Strange missed touch from trying to clear the ball deep within his own half. Rob Hoadley did well to catch the ball on the line and stay in touch, then run back towards the Bristol defence and throw a long-range pass to Lewsey, which put him away. The England winger pinned his ears back and left the others in his wake to score Wasps’ second try of the match. Van Gisbergen added the conversion to stretch the lead to 17-10.
A few minutes later, the travelling fans for Wasps were given even more to cheer about as Tom Voyce raced in to add another try. It came when Richards’ searing break allowed Lawrence Dallaglio and Ben Gotting to combine and set the winger up to score the third five-pointer for Warren Gatland’s side. The conversion was good from Van Gisbergen and at 24-10 ahead, it seemed all was going to plan for Wasps.
Strange added his second penalty of the game just before the break and Wasps went in leading 24-13.
The second half saw Bristol score an early try that came from centre Rob Higgitt. The ball was chipped over the top of the Wasps’ defensive line, and as the ball came down, it careered off a wayward hand and into the waiting hands of Higgitt who couldn’t believe his luck as he ran in and scored another ‘soft’ try. The conversion was good to make it 24-20 and the West Country folk were back in the game.
Van Gisbergen slotted his second penalty of the afternoon on 46-minutes but the scores were soon level after fullback Bernardo Stortoni crossed to score the game’s sixth and his side’s third try. The conversion from Strange was no problem and at 27-all it was game on.
At this stage of the game, Richard Birkett replaced George Skivington.
Things got worse for Wasps when Strange added another penalty and for the first time in the game, Bristol had their noses in front. The game was fast becoming a shoot-out between Van Gisbergen and Strange and it was a case of who would hold their nerve. The Wasps’ fullback banged over his third penalty to once again level the scores and with 15-minutes to go, added his fourth that once again gave Dallaglio and Co the lead.
However, Bristol, to their credit, never gave up and took the game into extra time with a late penalty from Strange. At 33-all, the crowds were in for another 20-minutes of nailbiting rugby. We all know Wasps are one of the fittest teams in Europe and the players admitted afterwards that they knew that if they kept their nerve, their superior fitness would get them to the next round.
The first half of extra time produced no score but Gatland brought on Will Green and Jonny Barrett for Henry Nwume and Ben Gotting respectively. The pressure was on at who would crumble first and it came after Bristol gave away a kickable penalty that Van Gisbergen landed from a long way out. The final try of the match came after Biljon put up a ‘box kick’ into the home side’s 22m area. The ball was gathered by Barrett who put Rees into space and he raced away to score under the sticks. The conversion from Van Gisbergen followed and Wasps held on to win 43-33.
17-year-old flyhalf, Dan Cipriani, made his first team debut after replacing Brooks in the final moments of the game. This allowed him to become the youngest ever Powergen Cup player.
After the game Gatland said: “I was a little nervous towards the end, but I always knew our fitness would give us the edge. I was proud at how some of the youngsters did and the future of the club looks good. You can’t teach experience but games like this allows them the opportunity to gain it.
Tries: Brownrigg, Higgitt, Stortoni,
Con: Strange 3
Pen: Strange 3
Tries: Biljon, Lewsey, Voyce, Rees,
Con: Van Gisbergen 4
Pen: Van Gisbergen 5
Van Gisbergen: 0 pen; 0 con; 0 con; 0 con; 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 pen; 0 con;
Strange: 0 pen; x pen; 0 con; x pen; 0 pen; 0 con; 0 con; 0 pen; x pen; 0 pen;