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If there was ever a game that showed just how hungry London Wasps were to get back into Europe and add some silverware to a dusting trophy cabinet, Saturday’s 12-27 win at Stade Francais was that game.
London Wasps team manager, Malcolm Sinclair, said before the kick off, “ I have never seen the boys this focused and this determined. It’s this statement and the teams’ focused and positive attitude last week that showed just how much they wanted and needed the win.
During the past three years Stade have had the better of The Men in Black, but after last Sunday’s Adams Park 13-point win and Saturday night’s triumph, Warren Gatland’s team are finally on course for some silverware.
The teams ran out to temperatures close to zero and with the knowledge that 80 minutes were what stood between them and a semi-final place.
A Diego Dominguez penalty opened the scoring after three minutes, but this was cancelled out by Alex King a few minutes later. King, celebrating his 28th birthday, has been Mr Consistency with the boot this season and once again never let the side down. The eight, nine and ten positions of London Wasps are by far the deadliest in Europe and added with the powerful pack, show just why they have beaten the likes of Gloucester, Leicester and now Stade Francais this season.
Nick Mallett’s men knew they had to score tries, and fast, and so came out firing on all cylinders. A barrage of attacks together with another Dominguez penalty pushed them out to a three-point lead. Wasps’ defence was being tested early on and with the referee giving penalties away like sweets, Lawrence Dallaglio’s men knew they were in for a fight.
The first blow from Wasps came from a well-worked try by Fraser Waters. The burley centre carried his rich vein of form from last weekend into the game and crossed the try line after 15 minutes. To be fair, the try came against the run of play when Waters collected the ball, drifted out towards the touchline and then cut back in to score. King missed the conversion and Stade found themselves staring at the scoreboard 6-8 down.
The talk around the many Wasps travelling fans had been that we needed an early try to settle the nerves and force the French into a slight panic and Waters duly awarded them that.
Another Dominguez penalty allowed Stade to take the lead to 9-8, but it was a lead that was short-lived as four minutes later, Scotsman Kenny Logan broke the backs of Stade, with an intercept try. The ball was fed down the Stade backline and with a two-man overlap; a certain try was on the cards. Logan saw the danger and gambled on the intercept. It was a gamble that would turn up trumps. As he intercepted on his 22m line his pace left the defence for dead as he dotted the ball down under the posts. King added the two points and to the astonishment of the home crowd and the delight of Wasps’ fans, the scoreboard read 9-15.
If Waters’ try had pushed Stade into a slight panic, Logan’s one literally threw them into a major one, and with the panic came the penalties. The first ‘panic’ penalty came in the 27th minute when Stade were caught offside just inside Wasps’ half and when Dallaglio handed Logan the ball and asked him to put the ball between the uprights, the Scotsman politely obliged. His monster kick of 52m cleared the crossbar and sent the Wasps fans’corner into a frenzy of delight.
Moments later King sent his second penalty kick through the uprights and stretched the now unassailable lead to 9-21. The team were on fire and knew it and nothing was going to change that, even as half time was called.
The second half saw the Stade team take to the field slightly sooner than expected and Wasps knew an assault of prodigious proportions was coming their way. Wave after wave of attacks flooded the defensive walls of the side; it was a case of who would surrender first.
Dominguez and Stade’s last points of the game came three minutes after the restart, with his penalty bringing the score to 12-21.
Once again with Mallett’s men running scared and trying to force the game, they gave away penalties and again Logan and King punished them.
It was Logan’s day and when he was asked to land another monster from beyond the halfway line, he duly and professionally obliged. His kick in the 48th minute and King’s in the 68th minute, were the final nails in the now French coffin.
More than 80% of the second half saw Wasps defending their tryline. They were like football goalkeepers, diving and saving certain tries as well as blocking and clearing the ball away. They hunted like a pack of wolves along their lines and showed no mercy in slowly killing off the French onslaughts one after another.
Craig Dowd received a yellow card in the 78th minute and it showed what commitment he gave in not allowing anybody across that tryline.
As the final whistle went the scoreboard read 12-27 and Wasps had gone above and beyond what anybody expected. A truly remarkable victory against a team whose home record is superb.
The team came across to the travelling supporters and received a standing ovation from all.
Big Trevor Leota walked across to the travelling support, shook hands and said, “Hey man, that was great, tough but great.
Sequels are never as good as the first movie, but somehow this ‘French Connection II’ was better than the first and the performance could lead Wasps to that Oscar-winning Parker Pen Challenge Cup.