And how did they respond to their thankless task? They performed with more pride, more passion and more bare-faced cheek than Dylan Thomas on a good night, all but saving their Heineken Cup bacon in the process. The English champions prevailed only on the back of a deeply questionable 70th-minute try from Shane Roiser, who took what appeared to be a clear forward pass from Kenny Logan and touched down unchallenged at the posts.
It brought Wasps to within two points at 26-28 and almost in the next breath, Gareth Rees chipped over a straightforward penalty to put the Londoners in front. The turnabout made for a paranoid finale as Swansea tried every trick in the book to put themselves in drop goal territory but when a fleeting chance offered itself, Andy Booth mis-hit his snap attempt.
The Swansea captain was philosophical enough in public, but he will be kicking the cat in private for months to come. "It's the way the cookie crumbles," he said. "We've checked it with the television boys and they are adamant that Logan's pass was a couple of yards forward. Kenny admitted it himself."
Booth stopped well short of openly criticising Sean Buggy, a replacement referee forced to take an unexpected role when Bertie Smith, the Irish Test official, went head to head with Dean Thomas, the Swansea flanker, and finished a poor second with a wicked cut over his right eye. It was purely accidental but Swansea would not have been particularly sorry to see the back of Smith, who had penalised them off the pitch during the opening 40 minutes.
For all that, the Welshmen had Wasps in unfamiliar strife from the word go. Paul Moriarty ran straight through Rees - quite an achievement - to score the opening try on 12 minutes and in the second half, there were further scores for Mark Taylor and the magnificent Stuart Davies. Taylor reaped the benefit of a visionary floated pass from Booth while Davies rumbled over following Chris Wells' drive.
Aled Williams also contributed with three penalty goals, but the visitors could never quite shake off a disorganised but grimly resourceful Wasps outfit.
Alex King, shrewd and inventive at outside-half, claimed tries in either corner in the space of five first-half minutes after a bright Swansea opening and with Rees' right boot a danger from any range, there was always a feeling that it would go all the way down to the wire.
"We were lucky to get away with it, that's for sure," admitted Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps captain. "They played well, yes, but they didn't get the result, did they?"
Very true. But Wasps, assured home advantage for as long as they remain in the competition, will have to cut the error quotient by roughly 99 per cent if they are to survive. And Swansea? It will be no consolation, but they played a full part in yet another addition to the Heineken Cup's pantheon of classics.
Wasps: Tries King 2, Roiser; Conversion Rees; Penalties Rees 4. Swansea: Tries Moriarty, Taylor, Stuart Davies; Conversions Williams 2; Penalties Williams 3.
Wasps: G Rees; S Roiser, N Greenstock, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy, D Macer (S Mitchell, 60), W Green, D Cronin, S Shaw, L Dallaglio (capt), C Sheasby, M White (J Worsley, 62).
Swansea: M Back; R Rees, M Taylor, L Davies, Simon Davies; A Williams, A Booth (capt); C Loader, C Wells, C Anthony, D Niblo, J Griffiths, P Moriarty (A Grabham, 46), Stuart Davies, D Thomas.
Referee: B Smith (Ireland).Reuse content