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London Wasps have been crowned champions of Europe after beating Toulouse 27-20, in the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham. In a match that looked to be heading to extra-time, Rob Howley scored a try in the dying moments of the game to win it, and by doing so, made Wasps the fourth English side to win this prestigious title.
The match could be described as a roller coaster ride that took eighty minutes to finish, and when it did, it gave the thousands of fans a ride of their lives.
The game was played in conditions perfect for rugby, warm with no rain and it didn’t take too long before things heated up. Two penalties from Toulouse flyhalf, Yann Delaigue gave the reigning champions an early six-nil lead. However, Lawrence Dallaglio’s side hit back with a Mark Van Gisbergen penalty as well as a try from Stuart Abbott shortly afterwards. The centre picked up a skip pass from Alex King, stepped off his right leg to beat his opposite number and went over to score the first try of the game. Van Gisbergen made sure of the conversion and Wasps were on their way.
The game was a constant seesaw battle with both sides coming close to scoring on numerous occasions. Joe Worsley was defiant in defence as the England flanker threw everything in the game as not to give an inch to the French. Van Gisbergen stretched Wasps’ lead to 13-6 with his second penalty of the game and it looked like the side was heading into the break seven points to the good. However, Toulouse struck back with a great try from Delaigue. Created from a wave of pressure, the French backs punched a hole in the Wasps defence and scored what was their only try of the game. The conversion was missed but both sides came off at half-time knowing it was still anyone’s game.
At 13-11 up, the next score would be crucial in terms of the game. Early in the second half, King made a brilliant break from his own half that saw him run almost 40m to set-up Van Gisbergen for a try under the posts. King kept his cool, offloaded to the Kiwi as he sped in to score Wasps’ second try of the game. He added the two points for the conversion to make it 20-11 and at this stage it looked like Wasps had complete control of the game.
However, on 56 minutes, Dallaglio was shown a yellow card for an infringement in a ruck. The captain was sent to the sin bin and Wasps were down to 14 men. The resulting penalty from replacement Jean-Baptiste Elissalde brought the score to 20-14.
Six points down but a man up, Toulouse needed to do something, which meant their powerful bench was asked to take the field. The fresh legs paid off, as they seemed to gain momentum and drive over the advantage line.
Wasps’ defence was pushed to the limit and while keeping tries at bay, gave away penalties. Two more Elissalde penalties levelled the scores at 20-all and it looked as if extra time loomed. As the clock wound down, something needed to happen and it did.
<2>A 22m drop-out from Frederic Michalak saw the ball fall to Howley. The scrumhalf kept the ball in play, and chipped it up the touchline that saw it bobble parallel for the line. All it needed was for Toulouse fullback Clement Poitrenaud to pick it up and dot it down. Howley chased and chased and somehow got there before Poitrenaud could dot it down. The Television Match Official awarded the try and the Wasps and Twickenham erupted. Van Gisbergen slotted the conversion and Wasps won 27-20.
After the game Gatland said, “ We said at half-time that we were in a dogfight and we just kept working hard and showing character. We had to go out there and do our best and that’s what the players did. Hopefully it will give us a stepping stone for a couple of years.
“ When we got into their 22 we wanted to get points and we did but, for most of the game, it was about our defence
Worsley was named Man of the Match and Wasps now go into next weekend looking to defend their Premiership title against Bath. For Wasps fans, this was a day to remember.