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After coming from behind to a second-half penalty try, with a man in the bin, Wasps seemed to have secured the win which would have ensured a home quarterfinal in the Amlin Challenge Cup. But after resisting a wave of last-ditch attacks, they conceded a penalty just outside their 22, and fly half Jonathan Wisniewski landed a simple kick to inflict the most agonising defeat.
The men in black and gold will now have to wait until the final pool games before they know what awaits them in the last eight. After a performance of great guts and character, it was heartbreaking to have the victory snatched from their grasp. They had outscored their hosts by two tries to one, and been within a whisker of two more, both of which were ruled out by TMO decisions.
Wasps made a late change to their squad, with Tom Lindsay coming on to the bench in place of Gabriel Bocca, who was suffering from soreness around his neck.
The home side went ahead after just two minutes, when Jonathan Wiesniewski landed a penalty, from 45 metres. They then enjoyed several minutes of pressure, before a movement broke down near the Wasps 22. The ball went loose and Tom Varndell hacked downfield and used his devastating pace to outstrip the defence and gather a friendly bounce to go over for an opportunist try, which Danny Cipriani converted, to make it 7-3, completely against the run of play.
Wasps went further ahead, after a fine sniping run by James Honeyben, who combined well with Dom Waldouck, to take play into the home 22, and a penalty ensued. Cipriani landed the kick, to make it 10-3, after 13 minutes. Two minutes later, he was just off target with another penalty, a few metres in from touch. Almost immediately, he was again just wide, with another attempt from the other side of the field. Within a minute, it was Wasps who were penalised, a few metres inside their own half and Wisniewski made no mistake to narrow the gap to four points.
The fly half then landed a smart drop goal, to make it 10-9, with 27 minutes gone before Wasps counterattacked from a lineout inside their 22. A long kick downfield set up a lineout near the Racing line, and the forwards took the ball through a series of close range drives, but a penalty was eventually conceded and an excellent position was lost.
10-9 was how it stayed until the break, with Wasps having the confidence to go for a scrum, when awarded a free kick, in the final play of the half. It had been an entertaining 40 minutes, with both sides keeping the ball largely in hand, but defensive pressure made it hard for either team to set up an clear try scoring chance
Wasps began the second half well, and six minutes after the restart, good work by Rob Webber and Serge Betsen following a lineout near the home 22, set up a chance for Dan Ward-Smith to force his way over the line, but the TMO ruled that he had not been able to ground the ball.
Seven minutes later, Wasps were penalised on their 10-metre line and Francois Steyn stepped up for a long-range penalty, which went just wide - but served as a reminder of his powerful boot. Within three minutes, the home side had a one-man advantage, when Ward-Smith was shown a yellow card, for an offence at the breakdown near the Wasps line. Rather than go for a straightforward kick at goal, Racing opted for a scrum. After one reset and a further penalty the referee awarded a penalty try, and Wiesniewski’s conversion made it 16-10 as the game entered the final quarter.
Racing were now beginning to take control, and a powerful run by hooker Benjamin Noirot punched a hole in the defence. He fed Sebastien Chabal but the number 8 had to stretch for the pass and knocked on with the line a few metres away.
Wasps bounced back with a breakaway try, set up by a counterattacking run by Mark Van Gisbergen. He was stopped near the left touch line, the ball was spun back to the right and Ben Jacobs sent a beautiful kick to the corner for Varndell to race clear and grab his second try, which was magnificently converted by Cipriani.
They then had a great chance to go further ahead, after a Racing move broke down, just outside the visitors’ 22. David Lemi hacked downfield and appeared to be winning the race to the touchdown, but he was denied the chance of a match winning try as he appeared to be taken out off the ball.
Wasps were forced to make a replacement, when Serge Betsen left the field with an injury to his left arm, - his place was taken by Will Matthews. Racing threw everything into a final assault, but the Wasps defence seemed to have held firm, until that agonising last penalty, after a final passage of play which had lasted over two minutes.
With their European campaign now on hold until April, Wasps return to domestic action on Saturday, the 30th of January, when they take on Llanelli Scarlets, in the LV=Cup. This game kicks off at a later time of 5.45pm, tickets are on sale now – call 0844 225 2990 or buy online here.