The European champions have justified their pre-eminence only in fits and starts this season - 40 minutes of genius here, 40 of half-hearted profligacy there - but there was nothing fragile about Brive's approach at Loftus Road yesterday. They survived the loss of key personnel both before and during this Heineken Cup quarter-final, a desperate penalty count and seven minutes of largely unwarranted injury time to retain their grip on the silverware.
They deserve every last ounce of credit that comes their way. The Frenchmen scored tries through their wings, Sebastian Carrat and his brother Jerome, and the aggressive flanker, Loic van der Linden, while restricting the out-of-kilter Londoners to six Gareth Rees penalties.
That simple fact tells the story of another fascinating Heineken set- to; while Brive were dangerous from every area of the pitch, Wasps seldom threatened to turn a 24-6 penalty advantage into anything more enterprising than a torrent of goals from their full-back.
Not that Wasps fell short in the sweat department. Prop Will Green may well have earned himself a first England cap against Australia after dominating the previously indomitable Didier Casadei in the set-pieces while Alex King, a yard short of full fitness following recent knee surgery, was responsible for whatever serious questions were asked of Brive's defence. He may not cover the ground quickly but his instinct for the right angle sets him apart as a subtle outside-half. Clive Woodward, the England coach who names his first Test line-up today, was present and if he is as bold as his reputation suggests, he will throw in both against the Wallabies.
English rugby at large will be uncomfortably aware, though, that three of the semi-finalists come from the other side of the Channel.
Pinned back for long spells, Brive streamed forward in numbers whenever they glimpsed the whitewash of the opposing goal-line, even though one of their prime attacking talents, Alain Penaud, withdrew just before the game and another, Sebastian Viars, was nursing an arm injury in the dressing room within half an hour of the kick-off.
Viars did make a contribution during his brief stay, creating a third- minute try for Sebastian Carrat but it took Van der Linden's muscular effort on the half-time whistle to swing the game.
Brive were five points adrift when Martyn Wood's fumble gave the visitors the scent of a second score. Olivier Magne, outstanding again on the open- side flank, claimed the loose ball, Sebastian Bonnet and Philippe Carbonneau appeared in sudden support and when Van der Linden arrived close to the line, his strength was all-consuming.
A sixth penalty from Rees restored Wasps to a one-point lead eight minutes into the second period but it would be their last successful visit into Brive territory.
Christophe Lamaison's long-range penalty turned the tables once again and when Magne and Lionel Mallier smashed their way upfield to create the opportunity for Jerome Carrat's smart finish at the right corner flag on 56 minutes, they possessed the serviceable advantage they craved.
Wasps: Penalties Rees 6. Brive: Tries S Carrat, Van der Linden, J Carrat; Conversions Lamaison 2; Penalties Lamaison 2.
Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy, S Mitchell (D Macer, 82), W Green, D Cronin (S Shaw, 56), A Reed, L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, P Volley.
Brive: S Viars (P Bornati, 32); J Carrat, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat; P Carbonneau (capt), S Bonnet (L Arbo, 78); D Casadei (O Gouaillard, 70), L Travers, R Crespy (D Laperne, 60), E Alegret, Y Manhes, L van der Linden (L Mallier, 50), F Duboisset (R Sonnes, h-t), O Magne.
Referee: C Muir (Scotland).
Bath v Pau
Toulouse v Brive
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