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In miserable wet conditions, the visitors scored the only two tries of the game to run out deserved winners.
The torrential downpour had eased to a drizzle by the time the teams appeared, but there was surface water in many areas of the pitch and the first few passages of play were punctuated by a series of handling errors, and far more kicking than has been seen in recent weeks.
Cardiff dominated the early stages of the game, and thought they’d opened the scoring in the fifth minute, after a characteristic charge by Xavier Rush took play deep into the Wasps 22. He managed to offload in the tackle, but a Wasps hand flicked the ball back towards the Wasps, and Ben Blair raced through to beat Mark Van Gisbergen to the touchdown, just short of the dead ball line. However, the referee ruled that there had been a knock-on.
Wasps were penalised almost immediately after, near their 22, a few metres in from touch, but Blair pushed his kick to the right of the posts.
The game was fifteen minutes old when Wasps launched their first significant attack, as Dom Waldouck wriggled out of a tackle to find space on the right, and create and overlap, his pass went just behind Van Gisbergen, who had Paul Sackey unmarked outside him, and the fullback was unable to hold on to the slippery ball.
It was a high kick ahead by Van Gisbergen which gave Wasps their first chance of points. Sackey’s chase caught Blair in possession, and Cardiff failed to release, a few metres from their ten-metre line, and 15 metres in from touch. Dave Walder made no mistake, to put the home side ahead, with 20 minutes on the clock.
Blair should levelled the score a minute later, as Wasps conceded a penalty inside their 22, near where he taken his first attempt at the posts. To the astonishment of the crowd, he again pushed his kick wide, to the right.
Cardiff continued to make effective use of their powerful ball carriers, and one run by Rush was stopped by a thunderous tackle from Phil Vickery. They continued to apply the pressure, and were rewarded with a 28th-minute try, by Leigh Halfpenny. Rush and Molitika’s power set up the position for the ball to be moved quickly out wide, and Halfpenny went over, for a well-deserved score, near the corner, which Blair could not convert.
Wasps nudged back in front, within three minutes, when Walder landed his second penalty, from 40 metres. Two minutes later, Cardiff were penalised at a scrum on their ten-metre line, and Walder made it 9-5, with a superbly struck kick.
Wasps made a blood replacement, with Tom Lindsay coming on for Rob Webber. Waldouck almost set up a chance, with a partial charge down of Blair’s clearance, inside the Cardiff 22. The ball skewed out towards Sackey, with acres of space in front, but Rush appeared, to pluck it from the air, and save the day.
As the half entered its final minute, Wasps were penalised on their ten-metre line, almost in front of the posts, and Blair finally hit the target, to make it 9-8, at the end of forty minutes which had produced a tight and hard-fought encounter, with the soggy conditions dictating the style of play, and the visitors having had slightly the better of things.
Webber reappeared for the start of the second half. Within 80 seconds of the restart. Cardiff collapsed a scrum just outside their 22, and Walder’s fourth successful kick made it 12-8.
Wasps were beginning to assert themselves, and a Dan Ward-Smith break, from a scrum just outside the 22, began an attack which went through at least a dozen phases, and saw Waldouck almost finding his way through.
Zak Taulafo replaced Tim Payne in the Wasps front row, and Cardiff produced one of their best moves of the game, with some remarkable handling, to take play from deep in their own territory, to near the Wasps 22. Blair narrowed the gap to a single point, with a 40-metre penalty, after 52 minutes.
A minute later, Wasps were reduced to fourteen men, when Simon Shaw was shown a yellow card, for handling on the floor, a few metres inside the Cardiff half. The visitors called up the powerful boot of Leigh Halfpenny, but his kick was wide and short.
With Serge Betsen on for Tom Rees, Cardiff took the lead on 58 minutes, after winning a lineout near the Wasps line. With the numerical advantage, they launched a series of drives, which ended with Gethin Jenkins forcing his way over. Blair’s conversion put his side 18-12 ahead. Dave Walder then narrowed the gap to just three points, with another fine kick, from near the touchline.
Despite being pinned in their own territory, Wasps held out until Shaw returned from the sin bin. Cardiff continued to apply the pressure, and Wasps were unable to break out.
With just over ten minutes left, it was Cardiff’s turn to be reduced to 14 men, when a powerful Wasps scrum sent the Cardiff pack into reverse, and the referee produced a yellow card for replacement prop Scott Andrews.
Danny Cipriani then came on for Van Gisbergen, to make his final home appearance for Wasps. He immediately came into the line at speed, but Sackey could not hold his pass, a few metres inside his own half. Another Wasps substitution brought Tom Varndell on, in place of David Lemi.
The Wasps forwards were now putting the Cardiff pack under tremendous pressure, and another juggernaut of a scrum set up a penalty, a few metres inside the Cardiff half, with less than four minutes to go, but Dave Walder’s kick dropped agonisingly short.
With the heavy rain returning, Wasps threw everything into a last desperate attempt to snatch the victory, but the aggressive Cardiff defence forced a turnover, and possession was successfully controlled for the last two minutes, before Darren Allinson triumphantly kicked to touch, to end the game.
Wasps travel to Newcastle next Saturday for the final game of the Guinness Premiership season.
15. Mark Van Gisbergen
14. Paul Sackey
13. Ben Jacobs
12. Dom Waldouck
11. David Lemi
10. Dave Walder
9. Joe Simpson
1. Tim Payne
2. Rob Webber
3. Phil Vickery
4. Simon Shaw
5. George Skivington
6. Joe Worsley
7. Tom Rees (C)
8. Dan Ward-Smith
16. Tom Lindsay
17. Ben Broster
18. Zak Taulafo
19. John Hart
20. Serge Betsen
21. Danny Cipriani
22. Steve Kefu
23. Tom Varndell
15. Ben Blair
14. Leigh Halfpenny
13. Casey Laulala
12. Jamie Roberts
11. Chris Czekaj
10. Ceri Sweeney
9. Darren Allinson
1. Gethin Jenkins
2. T Rhys Thomas
3. Taufa'ao Filise
4. Deiniol Jones
5. Paul Tito (c)
6. Maama Molitika
7. Martyn Williams
8. Xavier Rush
16. Gareth Williams
17. John Yapp
18. Scott Andrews
19. Bradley Davies
20. Sam Warburton
21. Dai Flanagan
22. Dafydd Hewitt
23. Richard Mustoe