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London Wasps booked their second visit to Twickenham this season after destroying the Northampton Saints 57-20 in the Zurich Premiership semi-final. After two defeats, Warren Gatland’s side rose to the occasion and simply put in one of the best performances of the season.
There is no doubt, that when the weather is good, Wasps are good. Causeway Stadium was baked in the most glorious sunshine and Wasps were on fire, scoring eight tries.
The first 20-minutes, saw both sides looking to gain supremacy and two Bruce Reihana penalties took the visitors into an early 6-nil lead.
Alex King closed that to three points with his first and only penalty of the game. Poised at 3-6, the game was evenly balanced until Tom Voyce scored the opening try of the match on the half-hour mark. His run took him from his own half, through the green shirts of the visitors, around Reihana and into the corner. The Television Match Official (TMO) was called into play by referee Chris White and the try was given. Voyce did however take a knock to the head while scoring and needed some treatment. It took a couple of minutes before he ran back to his position but the applause from the crowd would have made his head feel a bit better. King missed the conversion but Wasps were on their way, leading 8-6.
As Wasps started to gain momentum and find gaps, Fraser Wasters was brought off. The centre came off with a slight hamstring strain and it is hoped that he will be okay for the Heineken Cup final. The medical team will look at him this week and make a judgement towards the end of the week. While Waters limped off, super-sub, Ayoola Erinle took to the field and it didn’t take long before he made an impact.
The second try of the game came from the captain, Lawrence Dallaglio. It started from a catch and drive from a lineout. Simon Shaw and Dallaglio drove onwards and into the corner. Once again the TMO was brought into action and once again the try was awarded. Mark Van Gisbergen took over kicking duties and slotted the long-range conversion to make it 15-6. This try came just before the break but Wasps were not done yet. Stuart Abbott found some space and tore open a hole in the Saints defence. The ball was sent down the backs, however the backline consisted of Dallaglio, Shaw and a few other forwards. Shaw somehow got the pass away while being tackled and put Erinle into space to score Wasps’ third try. It was a massive blow for the visitors just before half-time and with the Van Gisbergen conversion, Gatland’s side went in 22-6 to the good.
As the sides ran out for the second half, they both knew the next try would be crucial. For Saints it would have brought them back into the game, for Wasps, it would be their ticket to Twickenham. Thankfully, it was the latter as Abbott intercepted a desperate pass from the Saints, who were building a good attacking opportunity. Abbott raced away a full 70m to score Wasps’ fourth of the afternoon. Van Gisbergen added the two points and the side was well in control at 29-6.
On the hour mark, Wayne Smith’s side finally managed to break the Wasps strangle hold as Andrew Blowers scored their first try. Replacement Shane Drahm added the conversion to make it 29-13. At this stage of the game, Gatland and Shaun Edwards started to mark their replacements as Martin Purdy came on for Richard Birkett.
No sooner had the game got underway again, were Wasps in for their fifth try, this time from Paul Volley. The flanker, who was playing his final home game for Wasps, collected a Josh Lewsey pass and ran in from 10m out. Volley was delighted and so were the fans as the so-called ‘unsung hero’ of Wasps got a just reward for all his hard work. Van Gisbergen added the conversion as Wasps stretched the lead to 36-13.
At this stage of the game, Abbott made way for Mark Denney.
The centre, who is a qualified lawyer, made an immediate impact as he broke open the Saints defence, which at this stage were falling off their tackles. Denney raced away but knew he would be caught, so calmly drew his man and sent Voyce away for his second try of the game. Voyce went in under the posts and the resulting penalty from Van Gisbergen made it 43-13.
With the game won, Gatland brought on Henry Nwume, Mark Lock, Ben Gotting and Peter Richards for Will Green, Simon Shaw, Trevor Leota and Rob Howley respectively. With 10-minutes to play, Tim Payne scored Wasps’ 7th try. A rolling maul allowed the prop to score next to the posts. With Van Gisbergen on song, the conversion was never an issue and Wasps racked up fifty points.
If one were counting players, fans would have noticed that Wasps played the final 8-minutes with 14 and then 13-men. Joe Worsley came off and then King. The reason for this was not to insult Saints, but merely to protect the respective players from injury. Gatland and Edwards looked to the bench but all the replacements were used and so opted to play the closing stages with fewer players.
Nick Beal scored a consolation try for Smith’s side but the final nail in the coffin came from the captain. Dallaglio drove a rolling maul towards the tryline and scored Wasps’ eight and final try. Van Gisbergen slotted the conversion and Wasps walked off the pitch having destroyed Saints 57-20.
Wasps now face their toughest two weeks when they take on Toulouse in the Heineken Cup final and Bath in the Zurich Premiership final.