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Wasps went to Castres knowing that only a win would give them any chance of reaching the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup. For a few minutes, Dominic Waldouck’s magnificent counterattacking try seemed to have kept their hopes alive, but a late score from the home side’s fullback Thomas Bouquie, his second of the game, brought the English champions’ European campaign to a disappointing end.
They created several excellent chances, which could have made the game safe, but ended up regretting their failure to apply the finishing touch.
Wasps made one change from the side which had beaten Leinster at Twickenham. Simon Shaw, who’d been ruled out of that game because of an infection to his elbow, returned to the side, in place of George Skivington, who moved to the bench.
After the horrendous weather which had battered south western France on Friday and Saturday, it was an unexpected surprise to find the Stade Pierre-Antoine bathed in bright sunshine with a bright blue sky and not a breath of wind – but, with the home side having only pride to play for, there were large areas of empty seats at kickoff.
After less than two minutes, a long clearance from Danny Cipriani found touch on the Castres 22. Wasps won the lineout and took the ball through several phases before the home side were penalised inside their own 22, giving the fly half a relatively simple kick at goal but it went just to the left of the posts.
On ten minutes, Cipriani showed a first glimpse of his attacking potential, accelerating through a gap for 20 metre run, which took play up to the Castres 22, but Wasps were penalised at the breakdown.
With fifteen minutes gone, it was Castres who took the lead after number 8 Iosefa Tekori’s powerful run from the base of a scrum made ground down the right. He fed flanker Chris Masoe, who came back infield, and the ball was worked out to the left and fullback Thomas Bouquie was given a clear run in for a fine try - converted by fly half Romain Teulet.
Wasps responded immediately, with a Cipriani penalty from 30 metres, before a powerful forward drive from Castres, following a lineout in the Wasps 22 set up their second try. Twice they seemed sure to force their way over the line but they were kept out by desperate defence. When they won the ball from a five-metre scrum, another surge by Tekori was stopped just short of the line and he managed to offload to Masoe, who forced his way over. Teulet’s second conversion gave his side a comfortable 11-point cushion.
Wasps mounted their first sustained attack when the ball was moved across the field several times, inside the 22. Josh Lewsey’s diagonal run infield appeared to have set up a chance on the right, but the ball went wide of Serge Betsen. Another multi-phased attack seemed to have set up a good position, but Castres hooker Akvsenti Giorgadze won a priceless turnover. Wasps were not to be denied though and even the home supporters were applauding, when Cipriani used his pace to burst through a small gap near the touchline to race in from halfway. A well-hit conversion made it 14-10, and within a minute, Wasps almost went ahead. Castres failed to gather Mark Van Gisbergen’s speculative kick ahead and Riki Flutey appeared to have won the race to the loose ball, but he couldn’t quite control the ball a few metres from the line. Then, Lewsey came into midfield, to break the Castres defence. He fed Dominic Waldouck, who was stopped just short and his pass failed to find Paul Sackey, who was clear on the right.
In the dying minutes of the half, Castres went back on the attack and the Wasps defence had to work hard to keep them out, with both Waldouck and Rob Webber catching the eye, with some crunching tackles. The siege was lifted, when Castres were penalised, and a quick downfield kick saw Lewsey putting Bouquie under severe pressure, but the fullback managed to clear to touch with the final act of half.
With news that Leinster were nine points clear in Dublin, Wasps knew they simply could not afford to lose this game. They’d had their chances to take the lead, and those chances had to be taken in the second half to avoid an early exit from the competition. Castres were certainly proving much stronger opposition than their lowly French league position suggested, and their powerful pack, and dynamic back row, had posed plenty of problems for the Guinness Premiership champions.
After three minutes of the second half, Phil Vickery was penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown and a long range penalty attempt from Teulet hit the right post. After ten minutes a Wasps turnover sent Riki Flutey away on a darting run down the left. He was stopped just short of the line and the ball was worked back out to the right. Paul Sackey was clear, but he had to pause to collect a long pass, allowing the defence to bring him down a few metres out. He managed to slip the ball infield and Rob Webber had the line at his mercy, but he knocked on as he bent down to gather and a golden chance had gone begging.
After a Cipriani penalty found touch at the corner, Wasps sent George Skivington on for Simon Shaw, but the lineout was lost and Castres were able to clear. Two minutes later, after an extended exchange of long kicks, Cipriani again set up an attacking lineout, with another penalty to the corner, but Castres won another turnover, after Flutey’s midfield run had been stopped near the posts.
Another substitution saw Joe Ward coming on for Webber and Castres came close when Teulet’s attempted drop goal go just wide. Castres were now sensing a morale-boosting win, ahead of the campaign to avoid relegation from the French top flight, and a series of battering runs, again featuring their back row, came close to a third try, only denied after a lengthy pause for the TMO’s decision.
After withstanding a lengthy siege, Wasps eventually took the lead, after Van Gisbergen took a quick penalty on his own 22. The ball was worked through the forwards, before Waldouck was sent clear down the left. Well shadowed by defenders, he shimmed in then out again, to go over for a magnificent score, which had to be confirmed by the TMO, over fears that he might have lost control, as he grounded it. Cipriani could not add the extra points. Waldouck then limped off, to be replaced by Tom Voyce. A breakaway by Sackey then raised hopes of a third try, but the supporting Serge Betsen just failed to hang on to his pass. With just over ten minutes left, Dave Walder replaced Cipriani, and Dan Leo came on for Tim Payne.
Another long penalty attempt, this time by Bouquie, again drifted narrowly wide, before Walder split the defence, with a glorious break, but Van Gisbergen could not hold on to his pass. A minute later, the game was lost, when a Castres counterattack sent Bouquie racing down the left, taking advantage of the fact that Sackey was receiving treatment. He burst clear and cut inside, past Van Gisbergen’s to put his side back in front. Teulet’s conversion meant Wasps needed a converted try to reach the last sixteen and despite one last frantic attack, time ran out, and Wasps’ European hopes were over.