Rugby Union: Wasps accept second with good grace

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Wasps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

Bristol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

THERE was a delicious moment 10 minutes from the end when Wasps heard they were within touching distance of the Courage trophy. Chris Wright, their replacement scrum-half, had been tuning in to the press box hotline and when word came through that Bath were behind he was off the bench in a flash passing on the news.

The rest was history and Wasps accepted their fate with good grace. Runners-up for the third time, last month's solitary league defeat at the Rec had well and truly wrecked their chances. All they could do at Sudbury was pray and win and even then they cut it fine in the preying department against Bristol. They sense a change, though, in fortunes next season.

Wasps welcome the switch to a home-and-away format of 18 matches and the chance to return the compliment in the case of Bath. 'I think it's a much fairer system,' Rob Smith, the coach, said after the dust had settled on another campaign. Wasps won the league at a last gasp three years ago and reckon they will breathe easier when the distance is increased.

'The long haul should suit us,' Smith said and he is looking forward to the new challenge. 'Last year everyone was working hard but in the wrong direction.' One of the reasons Wasps were in turmoil was the fact that Smith had resigned and, with Rob Andrew away working in France, they slipped out of the top three for the first time in the championship to finish seventh.

Club management, though, was given a sleeker look and Smith returned. 'This season we are co-ordinated. It's been really enjoyable on and off the field.' The good-natured feelings even extended to pleasantries for the enemy. 'Bath are superb and well organised. They have helped improve every club in the country.'

As for home improvements, Smith said: 'We'll need a squad of 25 first- class players next season.' The good news is that one of them could be Huw Davies. The 34-year-old holder of 22 England caps has registered with Camberley, the London First Division side, but is having second thoughts. On Saturday, he made another telling contribution at full-back in the absence of the injured Alan Buzza. Paul Hull, 10 years his junior, had been making huge holes in Wasps' defence but when one such break from his opposite led to Kevin Morgan being bundled into touch in the in-goal area, Davies struck.

Davies took such a quick drop-out that Bristol were caught flat-footed, the retreating Hull only managing to find Andrew with his kick. Andrew then fed Phil Hopley for the one try of the afternoon and, from far out on the right, landed what proved to be the winning conversion. The real sting, however, was in the Bath tale.

Wasps: Try Hopley; Conversion Andrew. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 2.

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

Bristol: P Hull; D John, R Knibbs, W Waghorn, K Morgan; M Tainton, K Bracken; P Guttridge, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, T Griffin, D Eves (capt), I Patten.

Referee: C Harrison (Leighton Buzzard).