Harlequins. . . .14
HARLEQUINS, if nothing else, know the road to Twickenham. After all, it passes right by their doorstep, and they will be there at headquarters on the first Saturday next month for their third successive appearance in a Pilkington Cup final thanks to a match-winning try from the England B centre Gavin Thompson eight minutes from time at Sudbury yesterday.
Wasps, whose one losing final came against Bath in 1987, were devastated. This was the fourth tie between the two and it was a familiar story, Quins squeezing in to face Leicester by the narrowest of margins since their meeting here five years ago which went to extra time.
Wasps had high hopes, not least because of their Courage win at the Stoop in September. Cruelly, though, they had lost their captain, Dean Ryan, with knee and ligament problems, which meant the first change in their pack personnel for either a cup or league game this season - and just as cruelly Quins were able to take advantage.
Wasps started with a frantic bout of activity. Buster White, their tenacious flanker, has enjoyed a fine season and he made great inroads with a scything run that opened the door to the heart of the Harlequins defence.
The door was still ajar when Fran Clough arrived, and it was a relieved Quins who eventually just kept out Graham Childs. Indeed, you would have banked on Wasps scoring if they had had a stand-off in place during these frantic moments. That, though, was down to Peter Winterbottom, who let Rob Andrew know that he was around with a ferocious tackle.
Quins recovered their poise, to the extent that Matt Greenwood, playing out of position at lock in place of Ryan, conceded a penalty by getting on the wrong side of a ruck. The penalty, from 35 yards out on the right, presented Paul Challinor with a fairly straightforward pot, but the stand-off pulled the ball across the face of the posts. Quins were also frustrated when Chris Sheasby, their No 8, surged away down the right.
Andrew had now recovered his breath, but he would have felt in much better sorts had he landed a 35-yard penalty from the right. That was in the 18th minute, and 10 minutes later he missed another from the left. These were golden opportunities and retribution was swift.
Mark Russell won a line-out for Quins and Challinor chipped in with a scruffy-looking drop-goal that was almost charged down by Alan Buzza. And it was still 3-0 at the break after Challinor had gone close with a second penalty attempt, this one from 45 yards.
Not that that state of affairs lasted too long. It had been a pretty turgid contest up to now, but Wasps finally set it alight in the opening minute of the second half. Kevin Dunn had driven into Quins territory and the hooker parked to set up a ruck. From there, the ball went left, Steve Bates's mis-pass found Childs and Chris Oti cut inside Challinor for the try.
Andrew made the conversion with a superb kick from the touchline and he stretched the lead with a penalty after Russell had been caught punching Francis Emeruwa, which is definitely not to be recommended.
A drop-goal from Rob Glenister and a Challinor penalty either side of a penalty from Andrew left Wasps 13-9 ahead with 10 minutes to go. Quins may have groaned when Challinor missed another penalty, but salvation was at hand. Jeff Alexander's cross- kick left Chris Madderson to set up the winning try for Gavin Thompson, and then a final 55- yard penalty kick by Andrew died on the breeze.
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).
Scores: Challinor (drop-goal, 33 min, 0-3); Oti / Andrew (try / con, 41 min, 7-3); Andrew (pen, 52 min, 10-3); Glenister (drop-goal, 54 min, 10-6); Andrew (pen, 62 min, 13-6); Challinor (pen, 66 min, 13-9); Thompson (try, 74 min, 13-14).
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