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They say all good things come to an end and Wasps’ fine run of eight successive victories was brought to a sudden and abrupt halt by the Celtic Warriors. The Welsh side caused an upset for Wasps and turned Pool Six of the Heineken Cup into a three- horse race.
The sides were greeted by heavy, freezing rain which took the shine out of what was supposed to be a mouth-watering game. Celtic flyhalf, Ceri Sweeney, opened the scoring in the fourth minute after Wasps were penalised for holding onto the ball. Minutes later he added another penalty to make it six-nil. The Celtic game plan was simple but effective in that they would attack the rucks and mauls with plenty of aggression. This caused problems for the Wasps pack as it unsettled the side and didn’t allow them any momentum or shape.
Approaching the break Wasps went looking for points and came close to scoring several tries with numerous catches and drives. However, a solid defence unit kept the side out and Wasps went into half time still six-nil down.
Wasps knew something would need to be done in the second half and came out looking to get something from the game. Celtic, on the other hand, literally came out a different side as they had changed their kit from the dark green and yellow to blue and white.
It didn’t take Wasps long to get the first points on the board in the second half after Rob Howley charged down a Celtic clearance and was held back by Sweeney. Alex King slotted the penalty and brought some welcome relief to the Wasps crowd.
However, the mini revival was short-lived as Wasps were caught offside and Sweeney punished the side with his third penalty. Leading 9-3, the travelling Welsh supporters made it well clear that they were in the ground as a barrage of rugby chants tantalised and taunted the Wasps faithful.
Warren Gatland decided it was time for a change and brought on Ayoola Erinle, Will Green, John Rudd and Jonny O’Connor in the space of 10 minutes. Rudd, who has recovered from a rib injury, immediately made his presence felt with a barrage of bursts into the Celtic defence.
The side was awarded another two penalties and King levelled the score with 10 minutes left.
The teams knew that the next score would win the game and it came via a try from winger Aisea Havili. A Gareth Wyatt grubber allowed Havili to sneak into a gap and score in the corner. The Welsh fans went crazy with delight even though Sweeney missed the conversion, but knowing that at 14-9 ahead, the game was theirs.
Wasps went looking to score a late try and ran everything. Unfortunately it was to no avail as referee Eric Darriere blew for full time and Wasps were condemned to one point and their first loss of 2004.
After the game Gatland said, “We knew it was going to be tough and the weather conditions were a great leveller, but we’re not making any excuses about the result. We are obviously disappointed but that’s what rugby is about. Rugby is about upsets.
“They put us under a lot of pressure and competed really hard at the breakdown, and tried to upset any continuity in the game. We, therefore, failed to get any shape in the game and so full credit to them.
Asked about the try, Gatland said, “The fact is there is a lot at stake and with so many TV cameras it’s a bit disappointing that there is no television referee. However, for the referee, it was a 50-50 call and I have no problems about the try.
“We spoke in the changing rooms afterwards and I said to the boys that when you get beaten by a team, it’s sometimes six months or a year before you get an opportunity to play them again. We’ve got five days.
“We’re disappointed and making no excuses about the result. We should now see how much character and how good this team can play next week.