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London Wasps’ five-month unbeaten league run came to an end in front of a packed Kingsholm Stadium in the penultimate league game of this season. The side went down 28-25 but two late tries from Kenny Logan and Mark Denney secured a bonus point.
The side arrived in Gloucester on the back of the fantastic Munster win and knew it would be very difficult to maintain a high level of intensity. The Munster game took a lot out of the players, both physically and mentally and it was a question of could Wasps complete the ‘triple’ over our old rivals. Before the sides took to the field, Craig Dowd pulled up with an Achilles tendon strain, which meant a quick reshuffle amongst the front row with Will Green taking Dowd’s place.
It didn’t take long for the game to get going as The Cherry and Whites came out firing on all cylinders looking to put their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Wasps behind them. The ground was soggy and very heavy which meant the game would be dominated within the forwards. The first points of the game came from the boot of Henry Paul as he slotted two penalties, which opened a six-point lead.
Nigel Melville and Dean Ryan, the coaches for Gloucester, knew the only way to beat Wasps would be to stop them from getting good possession, and to kick the ball behind the Wasps defensive line. To their credit they did both pretty well in the first half as Mark Van Gisbergen, Tom Voyce and Kenny Logan were all kept busy with catching and clearing the ball when the chips and up and unders came in.
The first try of the game came on the half-hour mark courtesy of James Simpson-Daniel. A neat break from flyhalf, Duncan McRae, opened up a hole, which Simpson-Daniel found, and ran in to score. Paul made sure of the conversion and took the home side to a 13-nil lead.
Wasps were struggling to get into the game but had a chance for three points from a penalty. Unfortunately, Mark Van Gisbergen missed the kick. Warren Gatland’s side were given another chance moments later and this time it was Alex King who brought up Wasps’ first points of the afternoon. This penalty seemed to relax Wasps a bit and the side started to put together some promising passages of play. None of them resulted in anything, but the go-forward momentum was there.
Ironically Wasps’ first try came from a Gloucester attack as Fraser Waters intercepted a backline movement and ran in under the posts. His try silenced ‘The Shed’ as conversion was no problem for King and Wasps went into the break only 13-10 down.
The second half started with another penalty for Melville’s men, as Paul once again made sure to extend the lead to 16-10. Just before the hour mark Gatland made his first replacement as Rob Howley came on for Peter Richards. However, minutes later Wasps were under the poles again as Gloucester scored their second try. It came from Marcel Garvey who somehow got a lucky bounce from a chip ahead, found some space and before you knew it, the speedy winger was in the corner. The conversion was missed but The Cherry and Whites opened a healthy 21-10 lead.
Just past the hour mark, King landed his second penalty of the afternoon which made it 21-13. Minutes later Dowd replaced Green. With 15 minutes to go, the home side delivered what looked to be the knockout punch as Andy Hazell ran in for his side’s third try of the game. Kingsholm erupted as their fanatical fans went mad at knowing victory over the champions was nearly theirs’. Paul added the conversion to make it 28-13 and Wasps looked down and out.
However, Gatland had one more hand to play and in came in the form of a five card trick. Ayoola Erinle, Mark Lock, John Hart, Ben Gotting and Mark Denney all replaced Waters, Martin Purdy, Paul Volley, Trevor Leota and Stuart Abbott respectively. Their impact was immediate and the fresh pair of legs paid dividend. Erinle’s size and power saw him tear open the Gloucester defensive and he, together with Denney, gave Wasps the go-forward momentum. This led to Wasps’ second try, scored by Logan but created by the fresh legs of the replacements. Logan ran in under the posts and King’s conversion made it 28-20. However, the Wasps fans’ joy was short-lived as Dowd was stretchered off the field with what initially looked to be his Achilles tendon. However, the Wasps doctor took a look at it and it seems the Kiwi only has a calf strain. He may miss the next game, but it’s not as bad as initially thought and should be okay for the Heineken Cup final.
While he was being stretchered off, the clock was well into injury time and Wasps had one final burst that came from Denney. The burley centre found a gap, ran into it and sped away. He was brought down by the Gloucester defensive but the momentum carried him over. Referee Tony Speadbury went to the television match official who awarded the try. King missed the conversion but Wasps had somehow got themselves a bonus point deep into injury time. Gloucester won 28-25, but The Black and Gold Army finished the stronger side and Gatland’s five-card trick came close to coming up trumps.
The famous American football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said, “ We didn’t lose the game, but rather ran out of time. Wasps ran out of time to the relief of the home supporters but to the disappointment of the Wasps fans.