Rugby Union: Rees calm in eye of storm as Wasps ride the whirlwind

Wasps 26 Gloucester 20
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The Independent Online
Stephen Evans

Wasps 26

Gloucester 20

The very best and worst of professional rugby was on display at Loftus Road yesterday. Both sides showed how money has injected flair, passion and thrilling skill into the game. But they did it in the dead atmosphere of a sparsely filled football ground.

Before acres of empty seats, they produced a hugely enjoyable contest in which Wasps snatched victory in the dying minutes. But the clubs played big parts in the match that might have gone either way. When the final whistle blew, Gloucester were camped on the home line.

The visitors had started at double speed and then got faster. From the first minute they stunned Wasps with their commitment and inventiveness, thumping in the tackle, razor sharp and unpredictable in attack.

Mark Mapletoft looped and dummied, creating Gloucester's first try after barely a minute when he gave Terry Fanolua enough space to waltz over.

Mapletoft also sent the kick into the corner that made the West Countrymen's third try. Kenny Logan had absolutely no space in which to play as the ball rolled to him. Hemmed in by the try and the touchlines, he fluffed the clearance and Nathan Carter was there to pick up and cross.

Richard Hill, the Gloucester coach, has been astute in his acquisitions, bringing in sparkling backs from around the world but retaining local pride in the pack. Time and again Pete Glanville led the forwards from the front as they knocked Wasps backwards. It was just this kind of smash- and-grab raid which gave Gloucester their second try, with Chris Fortey being shunted over. Mapletoft converted one of the three tries and kicked a penalty.

Against the whirlwind, Wasps could only limit the damage for most of the game. They never looked like scoring a try until the final 20 minutes but the faultless boot of Gareth Rees kept them in contention.

Then, with defeat staring them in the face, the Londoners shifted up a gear. The pack found an extra ounce of beef to produce good ball for Mike Friday to race down the touchline and go over. Minutes later the pack delivered the goods again, winning a penalty try when Gloucester collapsed the maul as it rolled towards their line. Rees kicked both conversions to add to four penalties.

Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps captain, asserted that the confidence is slowly returning to the reigning champions, particularly after victory over Harlequins in the cup.

Yesterday's victory kept the self belief growing, not least because Wasps refused to buckle when sides with less character might have. All the same, they are not quite the side of last season. Dallaglio is there, of course, and a massive presence, too. So are the forwards around him, but the attack yesterday in the centre of the backs often lacked penetration. But then again few backs could have coped with the relentless fire and pride of Gloucester.

Wasps: Tries Friday 2, penalty try; Conversions Rees 2; Penalties Rees 4. Gloucester: Tries Fanolua, Fortey, Carter; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalty Mapletoft.

Wasps: P Sampson; S Roiser, L Scrase, A James, K Logan; G Rees, M Friday; G Molloy (T Leota, 50), S Mitchell, W Green, D Cronin, S Shaw, L Dallaglio (capt), M White (C Sheasby, 75), P Scrivener.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre (R Jewell, 22); M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, C Fortey, P Vickery, R Fidler, M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt), N Carter, S Devereux (S Ojomoh, 74).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).

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