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kept alive their hopes of making the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup, with a hard-fought win against the Magners League champions Leinster at Twickenham, but Leinster’s losing bonus point means that even a big win at Castres next week might not be enough for Wasps, unless Edinburgh pull off a big surprise in Dublin.
It was a case of what might have been for Wasps, as a furious assault in the closing minutes saw them come agonisingly close to another try, which would have greatly improved their chances of qualification.
There was a late change for the home side, with George Skivington coming into the starting lineup for Simon Shaw, who had picked up an infection on the elbow which recently underwent surgery. Hugo Ellis took Skivington’s place on the bench.
With a cold wind already picking up, Wasps missed a chance to open the score on just three minutes, when Danny Cipriani missed a straightforward penalty, after James Haskell had won excellent lineout ball, from Rob Webber’s pinpoint throw, to set up a position at which Leinster infringed, just outside their own 22.
Cipriani was then denied by the lefthand post with a long-range effort , after Eoin Reddan was cynically taken out by CJ van der Linde, when taking a quick penalty on halfway. Wasps kept up the pressure and the fly half kept his nerve to make it third time lucky with a penalty, after another Leinster offence, on ten minutes.
Mark Van Gisbergen’s magnificent catch of a high, swirling ball then set up a counterattack, but Paul Sackey was crowded out when the ball reached him near the touchline. Wasps nearly found a way through, when Cipriani’s well-timed pass almost sent Dom Waldouck through a gap, but the flyhalf lost possession when the ball came back to him. On 14 minutes Wasps finally found their way over the line, after a magnificent counterattacking run from Josh Lewsey. He took the ball deep inside his own half, feinted to kick, before coming infield and making 40 metres to send Sackey away down the right. The England man was stopped a few metres short, and George Skivington was on hand to gather the ball and charge for the line. He was stopped by a last-ditch tackle and lost possession right on the line, but Serge Betsen was following up to touch down for the game’s opening try which Cipriani converted.
Five minutes later, Leinster put their first points on the board when Contepomi landed a simple penalty. That was immediately cancelled out with a fine Cipriani penalty from nearly 50 metres. The fly half then dropped a high downfield kick to give Leinster an attacking scrum, but the Wasps scrum, which had been putting the visitors under pressure from the start won the ball against the head. After a flareup on the touchline Leinster’s fullback Rob Kearney was shown the yellow card for reacting angrily to Sackey’s tackle. Wasps immediately upped the pace and Cipriani sent Lewsey through a gap which took play deep into the Leinster 22. From a scrum in the shadow of the posts, Wasps had a great chance to extend their lead, but with space on the left the move was switched to the right where Sackey went close before the ball went loose and a fierce counterattack took play deep into the Wasps 22, where skilful work from Reddan and Cipriani cleared the danger.
Wasps then made a blood substitution when Rob Webber, who’d been a lively figure throughout, took a knock in another charging run and was replaced by Joe Ward.
Wasps were then reduced to 14 men, after another long kick troubled Cipriani. As he struggled to gather the ball off his toes, Contepomi, who was following up strongly, was impeded by Betsen who was sent to the bin. Contepomi landed the penalty to make it 13-6 with just over five minutes of the half left.
Malcolm O’Kelly became the third man sent to the bin after a stamp on Phil Vickery’s head - many in the stadium were indeed shocked that his efforts had not earned him a red card.
The visitors then had another big psychological boost, when a second frontrow substitution with Bernard Jackman following Van der Linde off the field - taking the game to uncontested scrums. In the final minute of the half, Contepomi’s third penalty from 25 metres, made it 13-9 at the break. A four point advantage was rather less than Wasps should have had, as they’d looked the better side for much of the opening 40 minutes.
A frantic opening minute of the second half saw a series of knockons, before Lewsey showed his confidence under the high ball with another fine take of a towering kick under severe pressure.
For the first time in the game Leinster were beginning to gain the upper hand and Wasps spent several minutes in their own territory, before Cipriani launched an audacious counterattack from near his own line, combining with Van Gisbergen and Waldouck to take play to the other end of the field.
The game was just entering its final quarter, when Cipriani put Wasps seven points ahead, with a long-range penalty, but Leinster came back within a minute with another three-pointer from Contepomi after Wasps were penalised at the breakdown.
With 16 minutes left Wasps brought on Dan Leo for Tim Payne and Dom Waldouck was replaced by Tom Voyce. Leinster, who were already in pole position in the pool, sensed that a try would clinch the pool and the Wasps defence was put under enormous pressure, before Contepomi missed a simple penalty which would have narrowed the gap to a single point. Ten minutes were left on the clock, when Dave Walder came on for Cipriani and his magnificent long clearance immediately took play up to the Leinster 22.
Realising that a bonus point for Leinster could be crucial, Wasps threw everything into the frantic last few minutes. One attack was controversially called back for a forward pass. Another blistering burst from man of the match Lewsey then split the Leinster defence, but he lost his balance just short of the line and the ball was turned over. Leo then went close, before Walder landed a last- minute penalty to make the win safe, but it’s Leinster who remain favourites to progress to the last eight, unless Andy Robinson’s Edinburgh side can do the Auld Enemy a favour.