Rugby Union / Pilkington Cup Semi-Finals: Winterbottom beats out a happy tune

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Wasps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

YOU HAVE to hand it to Harlequins - and, much to their chagrin, Wasps did just that at Sudbury - when Twickenham beckons they can hardly be faulted. League no threat, cup no sweat about sums up Quins, who may have cut it fine on this occasion but will nevertheless be contesting their third Pilkington final in as many years on 1 May.

It will be a special afternoon, too, for the hard man of The Stoop. Peter Winterbottom was eight minutes away from ending his club career on a depressing note, but the tune changed when the most capped of English forwards rallied his troops and featured in the match-winning move that destroyed their London rivals. Winters, the Lion, was content and looking ahead to a showdown with the Tigers.

He was also baffled. Referring to the cup, he said: 'I still wonder what it is that makes this club tick.' To which Quins would have chorused: 'Peter Winterbottom.' The players had dug deep in their pockets to contribute towards a magnificent solid silver salver as a farewell present for their captain.

While they took a while to warm to the tie, Winterbottom went straight in with the sort of crunching tackle that has made him an England essential since he was first capped against Australia in 1982. It was Rob Andrew, a colleague throughout so many internationals, who was on the receiving end and the stand-off was still recovering his wind and rubbing his ribs several minutes later.

Yes, Winterbottom was going about his usual business and you would have to say that 14 like-minded team-mates would probably have wiped the floor with their opponents long before the end on Saturday. Instead, Wasps seized the initiative, much as they had done when winning the rough and tumble of a league match at The Stoop in September.

Then, Dean Ryan had become the subject of an enquiry by the Middlesex Disciplinary Committee after Simon Dear had had to be replaced in the second row. This time, though, the lock was absent with a knee ligament injury and there was no doubt that Wasps suffered through the loss of their abrasive leader. Nor indeed was this the time in which to make the first change in a pack who had been together throughout all previous league and cup battles of the winter.

That said, Quins had the very devil of a job keeping the die-hard Buster White in check and it is probably high time that other selectors besides the London Division's came calling for the services of the 6ft 1in, 14 1/2 stone tearaway of a No 7.

In no time at all, Quins were showing signs of raising the white flag and waving the flanker through, a typical burst up the middle leading to further thrusts by Fran Clough and Graham Childs.

Quins just managed to contain the breakout - not least because a dazed Andrew was still taking a Winters break and receiving attention in his own half of the field. Subsequently, the stand-off recovered, but a couple of penalty misses suggested that he was still a little wobbly. In the case of Paul Challinor, his opposite, nerves probably accounted for an equal number of missed opportunities, though he did give Quins a slender lead at the interval with a drop goal.

From then on you would have sworn that Quins were dead and buried. The second half had barely got under way before Kevin Dunn was making a big dent in their defence and when Steve Bates found Childs with a long cut-out pass, Chris Oti came back inside for a try that Andrew converted superbly from the left touchline.

Two Andrew penalties either side of a Rob Glenister drop left Wasps hovering on a seven-point lead and even after Challinor had landed his second penalty in five attempts, Sudbury remained abuzz at the prospect of a first march on Twickenham in six years. Poor souls, the waiting goes on.

Bob Templeton, a great Wallabies coach, had been making Quins jump in training. 'I don't want to see any Nancy boys out there,' he had said. Neither did he. The clock was running when Jeff Alexander chipped from the left and Chris Madderson came inside on the right to launch Gavin Thompson on a flight path to the line.

'It took a lot of character to come back from 13-6 down,' Jamie Salmon, the Quins manager, said. But then these characters have acquired a happy knack. Beginning in January, 1987, Quins have come off second best in only three of 24 cup ties.

Wasps: Try Oti; Conversion Andrew; Penalties Andrew 2. Harlequins: Try Thompson; Drop goals Challinor, Glenister; Penalty Challinor.

Wasps: A Buzza; P Hopley, G Childs, F Clough, C Oti; R Andrew, S Bates (capt); G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, M Greenwood, F Emeruwa, C Wilkins, M White.

Harlequins: K Bray; C Madderson, M Evans, G Thompson, J Alexander; P Challinor, R Glenister; J Leonard, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow, S Dear, M Russell, C Sheasby, P Winterbottom (capt).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

(Photograph omitted)