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The Italian side led the scoring too often for comfort in this Heineken European Cup game but their cruel run of injuries and poor form came to a halt, at long last, at Loftus Road on Sunday when London Wasps at last squeezed the life out of Benetton Treviso and won by scoring two tries, conversions and penalties in answer to a drop goal plus seven penalties from the sound boot of former Irish international Simon Mason.
This was an exciting but by no means a good game to watch but the win, by 29-24, the first recorded since the opening game of the season, brought immeasurable relief to the Wasps squad in the dressing room when it was all over. They should have dominated the scoreboard in the same way they controlled possession and the mid-field but good Italian defence and a series of dreadful passes and wrong options by Wasps, kept the visitors in the game. French referee Gerard Borreani confused everyone with some of his decisions, giving a total of 35 penalties, and long into injury time, with only one score separating the sides, Wasps' supporters were getting very anxious.
Kenny Logan was a late withdrawal with a sore right knee, so with Alex King taking over the kicking duties, and very successfully too, Nigel Melville felt this was an ideal time to introduce a young newcomer to the left wing. While many in the crowd and out on the pitch will want to forget this game, 19-years-old Michael Roberts from Liverpool and recently Sedbergh School, will remember it forever. He came off his wing, twice linked play in the centre before he punched a hole in Treviso's defence to score a debut try, battling over the line with two men hanging on. Then two minutes into the second half, he was sin-binned for tackling a man without the ball.
The match started promisingly and on 3 minutes, Alex King carefully aimed a soft, left-footed kick to pick up his first three points when the men from Venice went over the ball in a ruck. The scores were quickly levelled when their fly-half comfortably dropped a goal from 35 yards. Fraser Waters wasted his excellent break when he fired a potential scoring pass, way behind Shane Roiser and almost into the crowd. When Wasps were penalised for obstruction, Simon Mason elected to go for goal from 47 yards and hit the target easily and pulling don at the line out gave him another chance on 15 minutes, and Treviso were 9-3 ahead.
Scrappy play occupied the next few minutes until Wasps were awarded a penalty in centre pitch. King kicked long down the left touchline and a series of quick passing moves put Treviso under tremendous pressure. The young Roberts who had performed well in defence and had three good runs at his opposite number, moved inside and was twice drawn into play. Waters was almost through but a high tackle stopped him dead. The referee wisely played advantage, Alex King went wide, slipped an inside pass to Mike Roberts who galloped over close to the posts and the points were easily added.
The Italians were astonished when the referee then went back to the high tackle incident and sin-binned the offending prop. The score was now 10-9 to Wasps and Fraser looked to have scored a straightforward try from another good break but the referee turned it down. Treviso collapsed the ensuing scrum close to their line but were only penalised and managed to clear their lines. A skirmish just inside our half ended dramatically on 34 minutes. we were awarded a penalty and Trevor Leota tried to snatch the ball for a quick tap-and-go but the touch judge decided Trevor had thrown a punch and the referee reversed the kick for Mason to take the scoreboard back to 12-10.
One minute later King aimed another soft-footed kick safely for goal and restored Wasps' one-point lead. Just before the interval Wasps were adjudged to be hanging on at the bottom of a ruck and from only six inches inside our half, Mason kicked another beauty and the side from Northern Italy went in 15-13 ahead, a travesty for Wasps who had kept trying to move the ball through the hand. Almost immediately from the re-start they went to 18-13 when the young wing mistimed his tackle from our 25-yard drop out.
Even though they were a man short, now came Wasps best passage of play. A strong run by Sampson led to inter-passing by the forwards who for once failed with their first-up tackling and Joe Worsley cruised into space for a fine try. Adding the conversion took up back into the lead, at 20-18. Craig Dowd was deemed guilty for picking up at the ruck though to everyone's eyes in the main stand, the ball was clearly out. This was barely 30 yards out and bang in front so Mason put his side back to 21-20 ahead.
Honours were even two minutes later when Treviso suffered the same harsh judgment and Alex took to score to 23-21, in the 49th minute. Nail biting stuff and the visiting full back looked like he wouldn't miss a thing -- but he did, for the first time in eight attempts, with the ball sitting smack on the half-way line following a penalty for a scrummage infringement. Not for the first time, the green-and-white shorts were guilty of pulling down at the lineout and on 76 minutes the score went to a moderately safe 26-21. But now, a Wasps hand in the loose gave Mason the chance to bring the scores back to 26-24.
Then the strangest incident of all occurred in front of the dug-out. Treviso's scrum half kicked speculatively and the ball came off a Wasps hand and into touch. The officials missed that and ruling that it went out on the full, brought the line out back and the unfortunate No 9, Peter Richards, argued so fiercely the touch judge advised he should be penalised. Thank you, said Alex, and from barely 30 yards he coolly booted the score back to 29-24 and though many minutes of injury time were played, that's how it stayed.