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Wasps made it three European quarter-final wins out of three against Gloucester, to secure a home semi final against Bath in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Always the better side, they appeared to be coasting to victory when they built up a 20-point lead, early in the second half. A yellow card for MOTM Nathan Hughes and two converted Gloucester tries in his absence briefly set the nerves on edge, but the Men in Black and Gold kept their nerve and sealed an emphatic win with a late try by Will Helu.
With the afternoon’s rain making conditions difficult for handling, the opening few minutes were dominated by high kicks from both sides. One towering effort by Joe Simpson was allowed to bounce by the Gloucester defence. It was gathered by Sam Jones, who made several metres before he fed Jake Cooper-Woolley just outside the Gloucester 22, but the movement broke down.
Simpson then came close to an opening try, after Freddie Burns failed to hold on to a pass a few metres inside his own half. The Wasps back row arrived en masse and the ball was hacked downfield towards the left corner. Simpson produced an impressive burst of pace to lead the race to the ball, but knocked on as he stooped to gather it a few metres short of the line.
The Gloucester defence was again troubled by another towering kick. This time it was Jonny May who failed to gather, giving Wasps an attacking scrum a few metres outside the 22. Frustratingly, Wasps conceded a free kick.
The Wasps pack then produced an impressive drive from a lineout on their 22, to win a penalty deep in Gloucester territory. Possession was won, play went through several phases, before Andy Goode put his side ahead with a beautifully struck drop goal from 40 metres after 15 minutes of play.
A well-placed diagonal kick by Simpson found touch on the Gloucester 22. The visitors’ long throw went astray and James Haskell gathered the bouncing ball to charge towards the line. The ball was moved out to the right, but Elliot Daly lost possession in the tackle just inside the 22.
At the scrum the Wasps eight put the pressure on to win a penalty, but Goode’s kick went wide.
The fly-half then had a clearance kick charged down just outside the 22. The ball bounced into the hands of Henry Trinder and it took an excellent covering tackle by Joe Simpson to rescue a dangerous situation.
Wasps went back on the attack, following an excellent passage of driving play by the forwards, before Kearnan Myall came onto the ball at pace to take play up to the 22. Play was moved out to the left but Will Helu was forced into touch near the corner.
Helu then supported a strong burst by Nathan Hughes in an attack which almost produced a try out on the right. It resulted in a Wasps penalty, which they chose to kick to the corner.
The lineout was won, the forwards made a series of drives to bring play infield, and Matt Mullan eventually powered his way over halfway out on the left. Goode added the conversion, to put Wasps 10-0 ahead, with under ten minutes of the half to play.
A minute later, the lead was cut to seven points when Rob Cook landed a simple penalty from just outside the Wasps 22. Wasps produced an immediate response after further excellent driving play by the forwards, with James Haskell and Nathan Hughes both featuring prominently. They took play to the 22, where Gloucester conceded a penalty in front of the posts, and Goode’s successful kick made it 13-3.
Gloucester came straight back, forcing Wasps into touch at the corner. From the lineout a catch and drive yielded a penalty, but Cook sent his kick to the left of the posts.
In the final minute of the half, Nathan Hughes produced a superb burst from well inside his own half, to charge 40 metres downfield. Wasps again controlled the ball through a series of phases, before Goode put himself in the perfect position for another drop goal, only to send his kick to the right of the posts, with the final act of the half.
Wasps began the second half impressively, with Andrea Masi gathering Andy Goode’s neat chip to cross the line, but he was unable to ground the ball.
From the scrum, the forwards forced their way to the line, but were held up. The ball emerged and Carlo Festuccia dived through a mass of bodies for what seemed a clear try. It was eventually awarded after lengthy deliberation by the TMO. Goode added the conversion and Wasps were now 20-3 ahead, after five minutes of the half.
While the TMO was reviewing the evidence, Andrea Masi limped off to be replaced by Charlie Hayter. He went into the centre, with Elliot Daly moving to full-back.
Six minutes later, the Wasps scrum won another penalty, 30 metres out and in front of the Gloucester posts. Goode was again on target, to stretch the lead to 20 points.
Needing a quick response to give themselves any hope, Gloucester applied the pressure down in the Wasps’ right corner. They won a series of penalties, before Nathan Hughes was shown a yellow card.
Within a minute of his departure, Jonny May went over in the left corner following sustained pressure and a long pass by Freddie Burns. Rob Cook landed a magnificent conversion, to bring the score to 23-10 after 57 minutes.
Five minutes later, following a penalty to the corner, the Gloucester pack forced their way over in the same corner with replacement Gareth Evans applying the final touch. Another superb conversion by Cook brought his side right back into the game, with the Wasps lead down to a mere six points.
Almost immediately, Wasps were boosted by another Goode penalty from almost the same spot as his last successful kick.
Nathan Hughes returned to the action with Wasps 26-17 ahead, 14 minutes from time. He was immediately involved with a strong burst to back up James Haskell’s storming run, leading to a Wasps penalty a few metres in from touch, and five metres inside the Gloucester half. Goode’s long-range kick at goal fell just wide and short.
A minute later, he had another attempt - again a few metres inside the Gloucester half, but this time in midfield. This time his kick was straight and true and Wasps were 29-17 ahead inside the final ten minutes.
Victory was sealed three minutes from time, when Wasps broke away down the left. Elliot Daly came on to the ball at pace, and hoisted a kick towards the line. The bounce beat him, but Will Helu was following up and gratefully gathered to cross for his sixth try in the competition. Goode added the extra points with a fine conversion.
With time up, Martyn Thomas grabbed a consolation try for Gloucester. Cooke added a third touchline conversion to make the final score 36-24.
Wasps will now face Bath Rugby in the Amlin Challenge Cup Semi Final at Adams Park on Sunday, 27 April, KO 13:00. Tickets will be available for Season Ticket Holders on Monday, 9 April and on general sale on Monday 21 April from www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wasps and www.wasps.co.uk/tickets.
Wasps will face Gloucester Rugby again in two weeks time (Saturday, 19 April) at Twickenham Stadium for The Stinger, in the Aviva Premiership. Tickets are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wasps.