Rugby Union: Weedon's Wasps march to the final

Wasps 35 Gloucester 21
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The Independent Online
THERE IS a large corner of west London that will be forever Cotswold, but sadly for the thousands of Cherry and White Shedheads responsible for yesterday afternoon's redrawing of the map of England, Gloucester left their mark on every area of Shepherd's Bush except the one that really mattered.

When the dust settled on a thunderclap of a Tetley's Bitter Cup semi- final, the Loftus Road pitch remained the sole possession of Mark Weedon and his collection of highly capable Wasps.

The try count ended four-zip in the Londoners' favour and that, in itself, was all the justification the Cup favourites required as they savoured the prospect of a second successive Twickenham final in a little over four weeks' time. For all their huffing and puffing - and they generated enough wind to blow many a house to smithereens - Gloucester threatened the Wasps' line only once, and if Terry Fanolua was a touch unlucky not to be awarded the five points he clearly felt he had earned, it would not have altered the outcome to any significant degree.

"You need pace and power outside to beat Wasps, especially on a narrow pitch like Loftus Road," said John Brain, the Gloucester coach, who clearly felt his side had little of either. "We had our chances - Fanolua's try was good, we think - and it hurts a little when you lose a line-out for the first time in almost 40 minutes of semi-final rugby and leak a score from the mistake.

"But four tries to nil is pretty emphatic and from that point of view, we've let our supporters down."

Those supporters really are something else; in fact, if some Kingsholm boffin could only work out a way of transferring all that attitude from the stands to the field of play, Gloucester would never lose again. As things stand, the current side remains unworthy of the following. The passionate legionnaires from Matson, Coney Hill and Longlevens must continue to make do with the day out and forget about the rugby.

Apart from the line-out - "We were a total mess in that department, especially in the first half," admitted Nigel Melville, the Wasps coach - Gloucester were out-paced and out-thought in all the important theatres of conflict. The West Countrymen had no answer to the straight-line speed of Josh Lewsey and Paul Sampson, were flummoxed by the subtlety of Alex King and, eventually, they found themselves eclipsed in the front row by Darren Molloy and Will Green.

And yet, they were still at the races deep into the final quarter. Mark Mapletoft may have spent his afternoon in unfamiliar territory, having been asked to occupy the right-wing berth to create space for Simon Mannix at stand-off, but he retained his bearings sufficiently to land six penalties, two of them absolute pearls on 58 and 60 minutes that brought Gloucester back into contention at 18-23.

They would come no closer, though. Lawrence Dallaglio, who brought his international class to bear after the interval and proved a pivotal figure in the final quarter, made the play of the match with 11 minutes left, driving his own line-out ball deep into the Gloucester 22 and then handling twice more to clear the road for Paul Volley's game-breaking try at the left corner flag. Mapletoft's final penalty again reduced the deficit to a single score, but Kenny Logan applied the coup de grace, squirming over in the last minute of normal time.

Thus they finished the second half as they had started it. Four points up at the break - a rumbustious, tackle-breaking rampage from Rob Henderson had earned the home side a 16-12 lead - Wasps soaked up a period of Gloucester pressure before winning a prime attacking scrum in centre field.

Martyn Wood, a scrum-half with a prop forward's taste for the rumpy-pumpy, put Lewsey away on the short side and the full-back used his pace to open up a scoring angle for Sampson, who may or may not have grounded the ball, but accepted the points all the same.

According to Melville, the Wasps dressing-room was not overflowing with joy in the immediate aftermath of victory. "I think it's a mark of this group of players that they are aiming for the heights and are all too conscious the mistakes they make," explained the former England scrum- half. "But the feeling of satisfaction is there, definitely, and that will grow the nearer we get to the final."

So, it will be Melville's new Wasps against a Newcastle hive of old Wasps. Rob Andrew, Inga Tuigamala, Steve Bates, Nick Popplewell and Graham Childs all spent time in the famous black and yellow and their presence at Twickenham will create one almighty buzz.

Wasps: Tries Henderson, Sampson, Volley, Logan; Conversions Logan 3; Penalties Logan 3. Gloucester: Penalties Mapletoft 6; Drop goal: Sanders.

Wasps: J Lewsey; P Sampson, F Waters, R Henderson, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, M Weedon (capt), S Shaw (A Reed, 68), L Dallaglio, J Worsley, P Volley.

Gloucester: C Catling; M Mapletoft, T Fanolua (R Greenslade-Jones, 45), R Tombs, P Saint-Andre; S Mannix, I Sanders; T Woodman, N McCarthy (C Fortey, 66), A Deacon (P Vickery, 66), R Fidler (capt), M Cornwell (D Sims, 57), S Ojomoh, E Pearce, N Carter.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).