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Heineken Cup pool matches are generally exciting matches to watch. Teams get grouped together from different countries, which gives the fans and players something different from normal league rugby. This weekend was no different.
London Wasps arrived at the Calvisano ground, which is hidden away amongst the farming countryside outside the town of Brescia, on Saturday afternoon. As Alex King led his side out, a good few hundred Wasps fans, who had made the trip to Italy, greeted them, possibly even outnumbering the home support.
The game kicked off under crisp, clear conditions and it didn’t take long for Wasps to stamp their authority. The front row of Will Green, Trevor Leota and Tim Payne put their opposite numbers under early pressure, which allowed the backs to run freely. Former Scotland international Kenny Logan scored the first try. The winger was given space to run and he made no mistake in crossing the whitewash for the first of his four tries. King landed the conversion, followed by a penalty and Wasps were on their way after 12 minutes, leading 10-nil.
Warren Gatland said earlier in the week that the best way to beat Calvisano was to take them on with our pack as he felt our forwards would just be too big and too strong for them. And that was the plan. The forwards continued the pressure, which resulted in England flanker, Joe Worsley, scoring Wasps’ second try. Worsley, who picked up what looked like a serious hand injury against Perpignan, miraculously recovered for this game after earlier diagnosis that he could have been out for up to two months. King converted the try to stretch the lead to 17-nil but Worsley would leave the field moments later after taking a knock to his leg that got progressively worse.
The game was quickly slipping away from the home side and they needed some form of inspiration, which eventually came from their backs as winger, Nicola Mazzucato, rounded off a brilliant solo effort to score their first try. Flyhalf, Gerard Fraser had no problem with the conversion that took the scores to 7-17.
Wasps still dominated all phases of play and it wasn’t long before Logan got his second. The conversion from King stretched the scoreline to 7-24. If Logan was scoring all the tries down one flank, Shane Roiser wasn’t going to be undone along the other. The centre pairing of Stuart Abbott and Fraser Waters allowed Roiser to run off the ball and score a textbook try just after the half-hour mark. King was never going to miss from in front of the posts and Wasps were racing ahead at almost a point a minute, leading 31-7 after only 33 minutes. At this stage, Wasps were on fire and went looking for more tries. However in the hunt, a defensive slip allowed centre Giovanni Raineri to score his side’s second try. Fraser added the conversion but they still trailed 14-31.
Any Wasps supporter knows that when Logan is on song, he is amazing to watch and Logan was definitely on song. Approaching half time, Logan was given clear space to run at his opposite number, who he beat, thereby allowing him to score his hat trick. King added the extra two points and Wasps went into the break leading 38-14.
The second half started with Calvisano knowing that they were a beaten side but were not going to lie down without a fight. Fullback Massimo Ravazzolo scored his side’s third try and with the conversion the home fans were given a glimmer of hope of scoring a bonus point. The game quickly turned scrappy as Calvisano came out looking to kill the ball and keep Wasps out at any costs. It took a good quarter of an hour before Wasps could score again, this time with fullback, Tom Voyce, who was on the receiving end of a brilliant break started by Roiser. Voyce ran a good 40 metres to score the try but credit must go to Roiser who created it. The conversion was good but minutes later Wasps would be reduced to 14 men as lock, Martin Purdy, was yellow carded for a late high tackle on the Calvisano scrumhalf Paul Griffen.
A man down allowed the Italians to score another two tries, one from flanker Andrea De Rossi, the other from No.8 Caine Elisara, which took the score to 33-45, which meant that Gilbert Doucet’s side had secured a bonus point.
The travelling Wasps fans were looking for the Black & Gold Army to finish strongly and score a half century of points, and they were not disappointed. The final try came deep into injury time by none other than Logan again. It was his fourth, which allowed him to break the Wasps’ record of most tries in a Heineken Cup match.
Ironically, Logan already held the record with three tries (Ulster 97-98 h). King added the conversion, his seventh of the afternoon, which also allowed him to break the record for the most conversions in a Heineken Cup match (Jon Ufton held that record with six conversions against Toulouse during the 1996-97 season).
Wasps ended the game as 52-33 winners and with five valuable points and Alex King was named Man of the Match. However, the worrying thing for Gatland and Shaun Edwards would be conceding five tries.
Asked if he was happy at the way his team played, Gatland said “No, we scored 50 points but are disappointed that we let in 33, but that’s all credit to Calvisano. One of the things we pride ourselves in is our defence and to concede five tries is very disappointing. It was a tough game and we go away from here with a lot more respect for Calvisano.
Logan was asked what it’s like to score four tries for his club now that he has retired from international rugby and he said, “It’s just fantastic and I’m over the moon to get some ball and score tries. I must admit that they were great passes to me with one or two that I had to finish. But it was great to be back at the club and I really enjoyed it. It’s also nice to break some club records.
He added, “We were very disappointing defensively; as a team we didn’t defend very well. We came off the boil in the second half and I think that may be due to having last week off. But they are a good side and there is no taking that away from them. We’ve got a long week ahead before the next game against Saracens but we are pleased that we got the five points.
“We rested a lot of guys for this game and that’s important as it means everyone is playing for places for next weekend. It’s hard to come to a little place like this and come away with a win. As a player you need to be mentally strong, shut yourself off from what’s going on around you and just play the game.
“We had more supporters than they did which is fantastic. I remember the days when we used to get about 10 fans away from home. Today there must have been a good few hundred in this little stadium.
Wasps’ next game is at home against Saracens on Sunday 21st December, kick-off 3pm.