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London Wasps launched their defence of the EDF Energy Cup in disappointing fashion, sliding to a 36-20 defeat against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.
Despite going in level at half time, Wasps suffered badly at the tackle area all game, and that difference between the teams really told in the second half as Cardiff dominated territory and possession to run out comfortable winners at full time.
The home side were clearly up for this game and were out of the traps quickly, starting at a furious pace. Counter attacking with appetite, full back Ben Blair set up three scoring opportunities for his team in the opening ten minutes, though in the event they converted only one, prop Gethin Jenkins crashing over in the 5th minute after Robinson's long pass gave flanker Scott Morgan space to cut back inside, offloading to Blair who in turn slipped the scoring pass to Jenkins near the posts.
Injury was added to insult as Wasps centre Ayoola Erinle then limped off with a hamstring injury, replaced by James Brooks after Blair had converted for a 7-0 lead.
Lewsey showed his full strength and tenaciousness to stay on his feet, pirouetting out of two tackles for Wasps first try
John Hart, with an Achilles problem, quickly followed Erinle to the sideline and was replaced by James Haskell. Meanwhile as the pace of the game showed no sign of abating, Josh Lewsey began to make inroads in attack and defence. First his jinking run down the left put Wasps on the front foot, and soon after his half break and offload to Voyce put Blues under pressure again. However, Wasps were struggling to create momentum, having conceded a penalty after Lewsey's first foray up field, and losing the ball in a turnover after the second, as hooker T Rhys Thomas poached the ball from the back of a ruck and launched another dangerous Blues counter attack deep into Wasps 22.
Perhaps given heart by Lewsey, Wasps forwards seemed to up their physicality in the tackle and at rucks and the next ten minutes belonged to the visitors. At last able to generate quick ball, Wasps found some continuity and good work from Tom Voyce on both flanks took Wasps into their hosts 22 and won them an attacking scrum. Haskell got the ball away and from a ruck under the posts Josh Lewsey ran onto the quick ball and showed his full strength and tenaciousness to stay on his feet, pirouetting out of two tackles to reach over the line for Wasps first try, Staunton's conversion bringing Wasps level at 7-7.
Another seven points followed from the restart. Wasps gathered cleanly from the kick off reception and Jeremy Staunton, receiving the ball from his forwards in his own 22, spotted a gaping hole in the Cardiff midfield and raced through it and towards half way. Waters and Sackey in support attracted the recovering Cardiff tacklers, and Sackey's well timed pass put James Brooks away to score near the posts and make Staunton's conversion a straightforward affair, giving Wasps a 14-7 lead.
Lewsey was continuing to put himself about, but ironically it was his massive hit on Cardiff centre Tom Riley that created the gap for Cardiff's next attack. Riley spilled the ball but it went backward, collected by fly half Nicky Robinson, whose cross-field chip was collected by Morgan in space, and under pressure Wasps conceded a penalty centre field. Blair made no mistake and closed the gap to 14-10.
Cardiff again went ahead again in the 34th minute, their backs executing well from a counter attack, Czekaj committing Sackey and passing to Martyn Williams, who stepped inside and linked again with the supporting Czekaj who went over between the posts. Blair's conversion nudged his side 17-14 ahead, but Jeremy Staunton ensured the sides turned around level by dropping a goal with the last action of the half.
The second half saw Raphael Ibanez start in place of Joe Ward, who retired with a calf strain, and Cardiff were in Wasps 22 from the off, Nicky Robinson's drop goal a reward for their efforts.
Good interpassing from Wasps flankers Rees and Leo gave Wasps the go forward in reply, and Josh Lewsey's chip and chase followed up their good work to pressure the Blues into infringing, Staunton converting the ensuing penalty to draw level again at 20-20.
It was Wasps last score of the match however, as Cardiff became dominant at the breakdown, winning turnovers and pressuring Wasps into making errors at the back of rucks and mauls n the face of the Welsh pressure. In the 50th minute Josh Lewsey added to his team's woes, leaving the field with hamstring trouble, where he was replaced by Dave Walder.
Cardiff had two further try-scoring chances as their dominance at the breakdown became more pronounced. First, centre Nick McLeod, a replacement Tom Riley, broke through midfield but could not find Luveitasau with the final pass. The Blues winger fared better with his next opportunity though, Blair making the extra man in the line as Wasps defence was caught narrow and Tom Voyce fell off a tackle, allowing the Blues full back to put Luveitasau away to the corner.
After converting Luveitasau's score, Blair added a fourth penalty in the 65th minute to complete a 100% kicking performance, and though a yellow card for Cardiff debutante Ben White gave Wasps the man advantage with 5 minutes to go, the game was already well won.
After the game, Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan said, 'We were in it at half time but we couldn't get any real flow in the second half as we struggled to get the ball away at contact. That was probably my fault for allowing us to be too honest there. We should have just challenged the ref in that area. If you go into the contact area and get it right then you are in control and can get quick ball. If you don't then you stutter as we did. In the first half when we did get ball and move it quickly we were very competitive, but in the second half we just couldn't get any rhythm at all into what we were doing.
The contact area was hugely significant. If you can't control the contact area it becomes a very difficult game, and for us in the second half it was a very difficult game. As I've said several times before, if you referee the tackler, you make or break the breakdown. I'm disappointed that I didn't say more to our players, but I also feel we would have been regressing in that respect, because we will shortly go back to the Premiership where you have to play the ball on your feet.
'I don't want to take anything away from Cardiff though, when they got the ball they played well and I'd compliment them on that.'