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London Wasps booked their place in the Powergen Cup semi-finals with a 42-8 victory over Saracens at the Causeway Stadium on Sunday.
Opposition coach Steve Diamond fielded a young team, with senior players Shane Byrne and Hugh Vyvyan on the bench and Thomas Catagniede rested, perhaps with his team's Heineken Cup clash with Ulster on Friday in mind.
Wasps, in contrast, fielded a strong team including returning internationals Simon Shaw, Josh Lewsey and Tom Voyce, although Matt Dawson and Jonny O'Connor were both named on the bench.
However, Saracens put up a good fight for an hour, limiting Wasps to 14-8 until fatigue set in for the visiting youngsters and the try floodgate opened for Wasps, who ran in 4 tries in the last 15 minutes.
Saracens kicked off, and a fumble from Wasps gave possession back to Saracens for Mark Bartholemeusz to attempt a drop goal. However, the home side recovered and put pressure on the guests, Saracens' winger Paul Bailey sprinting the length of his own in goal area before getting away his clearance kick, only for Wasps to collect and send centre Ayoola Erinle on a burst down the right. Lewsey showed great hands to scoop up a difficult pass from Erinle and offload to Dallaglio, who was brought down short, but George Skivington scooped up the ball and dived over from close range for a 5-0 lead after 3 minutes, King missing the wide conversion.
King stretched the lead to 8 in the 10th minute with a penalty from 35 metres, only for Saracens centre Adam Powell to shrug off the attentions of Alex King a minute later to break the defence and give a long pass to winger Paul Bailey, who had a clear run to touchdown in the corner. Bartholomeusz pulled the conversion, leaving his side 8-5 adrift. Alex King should have made it 11-5 with penalty on the 22 and in front of the posts in the 16th min, but made bad contact and the kick sailed wide. He succeeded with second chance from further out just a minute later however, and Wasps entered the second quarter 11-5 ahead.
With the referee awarding penalties at the rate of almost one a minute, Saracens had their own chance in the 24th, though full back Ben J Russell could not slot it from wide. Flanker Tom Rees was forced to leave the field with a shoulder injury after 26 minutes, Jonny O'Connor coming on the replace him.
Saracens should have scored in the 34th minute. A sustained period of pressure saw their forwards drive in a maul and then win the scrum to provide a strong platform for flanker Emmanuel Amapakabo to run at the Wasps midfield., creating space on the wing, but Russell and Bailey collided as both ran to gather the scoring pass, and collapsed in a heap short of the line with Abbott and Lewsey on hand to snuff out the danger.
As the half drew to a close, Saracens were able to close the gap in the scoreline. Fly half Nicky Little went though a gap and Saracens were driving towards the Wasps line before quick ball came out to centre Powell who snapped a quick drop goal from left of the posts to pull his team back to 11-8. This was the last action of the half, the referee blowing for half time as the teams lined up for the restart after Wasps prop Peter Bracken had received lengthy treatment and was stretchered from the field with a deep cut to his knee.
With replacements on, in the shape of Jon Dawson for Bracken and Mark Lock for John Hart, Wasps opened the second half positively, another King penalty giving his team a 14-8 lead after 43 minutes.
A promising break from Erinle in the 54th minute had Wasps advancing again, with King and Abbott keeping the move going forward. Wasps switched the play from left to right and moved the ball wide quickly, but a poor pass from Josh Lewsey to Paul Sackey saw the Wasps winger swallowed up by defence and the momentum was lost.
Wasps continued to use Erinle as a strike runner up the middle, but Saracens' tackling was brave. A break down the left, that saw Erinle break several tackles before being brought down, was the nearest Wasps came to the try line thus far, but they were unable to convert the attack into points until a minute later in a carbon copy move, Erinle again went down the left before Wasps moved the ball right to Paul Sackey, who was over in the corner with 67 minutes on the clock, King's conversion from the touchline also good to give Wasps a 21-8 lead with just over ten minutes left.
Wasps were able to take full advantage as the game drew to a close, as not only did the opposition tire, but they were reduced to 14 as referee Ashley Rowden sin-binned Saracens' No8 Stefon Armitage for preventing release of the ball. Full Back Josh Lewsey punished Saracens for sloppy play in the 72nd minute as, with Wasps again in the Saracens 22,Tevita Vaikona gave a loose pass. Lewsey to pounced to gain the touchdown, and King's straightforward conversion stretched Wasps away to 28-8.
Sackey grabbed his second of the day minutes later, Saracens midfield waving him through to score under the posts and King's extras taking Wasps to 35-8 with 5 minutes left on the clock.
Wasps final score was end to end stuff. Mark Van Gisbergen started the move with a run out of his 22 whilst Hoadley and Reddan finished off at the other end, Hoadley evading several players before offloading to Reddan, who rolled over the line in the tackle, the conversion taking Wasps to 42-8 at the final whistle.
After the game, captain Lawrence Dallaglio said, felt Wasps were made to work hard for their win by a promising young side, whilst Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan gave his side a mixed review, saying, 'We made a lot of unforced errors in the first half, but aimed to go out after half time and keep the ball, build momentum and find gaps - and I think we did that. In the second half we started getting our priorities and balance right.
'It was good today to get our internationals back in and start building our continuity for next week's game.
'As well as their youngsters, Saracens had some experienced players out there and they worked really hard and played a bit of rugby against us. Obviously it took its toll on them, but that is what we want from the way we play, to put ourselves in the position to take advantage of that in the last 20 minutes.'
"Yellow cards should be in the first 20 minutes, not the last 20. Saracens' players were off their feet, aiming to slow down and stop continuity in our play" - McGeechan
Once again, McGeechan was critical of the opposition for spoiling and slowing down ball and also questioned the referee's use of the yellow card, 'It came too late' he said of Ashley Rowden's sin-binning of Saracens No8 Stefon Armitage in the 70th minute, 'Yellow cards should be in the first 20 minutes, not the last 20. Saracens' players were off their feet, aiming to slow down and stop continuity in our play.'
On gaining a place in the semi finals of the Powergen Cup, McGeechan said, 'We're looking forward to playing at the Millennium Stadium, which I think will be a first for the club. It will be something to keep looking forward to over the next few weeks, knowing that we will be challenging at the sharp end of the season.'
Referee: Ashley Rowden