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London Wasps completed round five of this season’s Heineken Cup campaign with an emphatic 46-13 win, scoring seven tries in total, three of them from winger John Rudd. On a day that saw the Webb Ellis Cup finally make its way to the Causeway Stadium, Wasps moved into top place in pool six with the five-point haul from the win.
Fans arrived early and braved the crisp conditions and long queues to have their photograph taken with England’s most prized possession of rugby trophies. Once that was completed, Lawrence Dallaglio, together with Josh Lewsey, paraded the Webb Ellis Cup around the field to the rapturous applause of the crowd.
The game got underway, and surprisingly, the visitors took an early six-point lead thanks to two penalties from flyhalf Gerard Fraser. Wasps, who were playing without the big-guns of Dallaglio, Lewsey, Simon Shaw, Rob Howley, Craig Dowd, Fraser Waters and Phil Greening, took a while to find their feet and secure enough possession to put them into points. Fullback, Mark Van Gisbergen, came close to scoring the opening try before he was forced into touch from some stern Italian defence. Tom Voyce and Van Gisbergen combined excellently to set up the first attacking opportunity but it came to no avail. Minutes later Alex King narrowed the lead to three points with a well-struck penalty after the visitors were caught offside.
However, as Wasps were starting to find their feet, Stuart Abbott was losing his. The England centre turned over on his ankle and hobbled off the field after only 15-minutes of play. The injury is the recurrent of the one suffered during the Barbarians game and early indications are that he will miss three weeks. Abbott’s departure saw Ayoola Erinle’s arrival.
The first try of the game was a penalty try awarded to Wasps in the 18th minute. Scrumhalf Peter Richards made a darting break towards the tryline and came close to scoring the try but too many hands in the ruck saw referee Rob Dickson award the penalty try. King converted and Wasps took the lead at 10-6.
The side, which was captained by Paul Volley, started to find their shape and momentum that we all have become accustomed to over the past season. It wasn’t long before the side pressed on and the Italians were forced to make some try-saving tackles and give away professional fouls. Once such foul saw Fraser yellow carded for a repeatable offence. His ten minutes in the sin-bin would be costly for the visitors as Wasps ran in two unanswered tries. The first came from Rudd who received the ball out wide and was forced into the corner, the other came from the replacement Erinle. The big centre was left unmarked along the touchline and slid in to score the side’s third try. King made sure of both conversions and Wasps went into the break with a healthy 24-6 lead.
The game wasn’t a classic, as Dickson’s style of refereeing is to be very quick on the whistle. This allowed Calvisano the opportunity to stop any momentum Wasps would build and give them time to slow the game down.
The bonus point try came from flanker Jonny O’Connor. The young Irishman was on the end of the quick tap-and-go and was forced over the tryline by his forwards. King missed the conversion, but Wasps had secured the game, and five points. This meant the Black & Gold Army went hunting for as many tries as possible in order to secure a better try count average over the Celtic Warriors and Perpignan, the other two threats in pool six.
Tim Payne was next on the scoreboard, as the Calvisano pack collapsed under the sheer weight and dominance of their opposite numbers, which allowed the prop to score. King added the extra two points but was ordered to hurry things up with the conversions or not take them at all. This was to secure more game time, in order to score more tries.
Ten minutes to go, it was try feast time as Wasps threw everything into scoring five-pointers. This barrage of running rugby allowed Rudd the opportunity to score his hat-trick with two well taken tries. It was Wasps’ seventh of the day and equalled the same number of tries Warren Gatland’s side scored in Italy when the sides met in December.
The game plan was to live dangerously and it was only a matter of time before Calvisano would piece a gap and score a try. It came on the stroke of fulltime when winger Emiliano Mulieri, ran in under the posts for the conciliation try. Fraser added the conversion, but Wasps walked away with the 46-13 win and Rudd the Man of the Match award.
Gatland said, “ We had a lot of youngsters and to score seven tries and 40-odd points we’re happy. We desperately want a home quarter-final so we need to get a result next week .