Baffled Bristol humbled by King

Tetley's Bitter Cup: Fly-half runs the West Country men ragged on a cruise to Twickenham
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The Independent Online

It is rare at this stage of a first-class competition to find such a one-sided contest and a scoreline which so inadequately reflects the difference in class between the sides.

It is rare at this stage of a first-class competition to find such a one-sided contest and a scoreline which so inadequately reflects the difference in class between the sides.

The question as to whether this was due to Wasps' superb efficiency for three-quarters of this Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final or Bristol's supreme incompetence during that spell is, for the sake of all Bristolians, probably best left unanswered. But the plain fact that the margin of Wasps' victory scarcely did justice to their superiority speaks volumes for their inability to hit opponents when they were down.

For every point scored by Wasps at the height of their ascendancy they squandered three, but confronted by a defence as porous as Bristol's it didn't matter. They may not find their opponents so accommodating in the final.

Despite the fact that Bristol, cosmetically at least, repaired some of the damage by scoring 31 points in the final quarter, this can be no defence of a side who played for so much of the game without a defence.

The result was that Wasps were able to lay most of their forwards off in the close quarter exchanges and stack them alongside the backs in attacking formation. Whenever Wasps moved the ball they appeared to have twice as many players on the field as Bristol, and had their decision-making been up to scratch this would have been total annihilation.

As it was, they were 25 points ahead at half-time and secure in the knowledge that short of a calamitous loss of form they would be appearing at Twickenham next month. Even allowing for the fact that they took their foot off the pedal to a remarkable degree, they had done enough.

Bristol seemed quite incapable of sustaining their attacks beyond three or four phases. They were bullied and chivvied into surrendering possession. The chief culprit was Agustin Pichot, the player Bristol relied on above all to make an impact. But he was curiously distracted throughout the game, twice receiving lectures from the referee for indiscipline in the first half, frittering away good possession and once, with Wasps' defence in disarray and the try line beckoning, knocking on at a ruck.

Meanwhile Wasps were steadily accumulating their points. Alex King, a fly-half in the classic mould and a player unfortunate not to have been given the opportunity to parade his talents more regularly at the highest level, was both varied and crisply fluent in his direction of Wasps attacks. He also tackled his weight, something he shared with his colleagues, whose defensive solidity, before they raised the white flag in the final quarter, was too much for Bristol.

The tackling of the Wasps loose forwards was at times shuddering in its intensity and overall there was no better player on the field than Joe Worsley.

Bristol began badly and then tailed off. Within three minutes Kenny Logan had opened the scoring with a try which, despite a two-man overlap, owed more to the failure of Lee Best and David Rees to keep the Wasps winger out. King, though, with an admirably quick pass from a flat position, had created the room in the first place. It was the fly-half who twice extended Wasps' lead with penalties, both for offside, before Paul Volley scored Wasps' second try following King's neat break. Will Green's try just before half-time finished off a weaving run by Logan.

Bristol's half-time pep talk probably followed the lines of whatever Wasps can do in the first half, chaps, you can do in the second. But before the third quarter was over Wasps had added another 19 points, with tries by Trevor Leota, Rob Henderson and Shane Roiser, two of which were converted by King.

Wasps, their work done and having already gone beyond the call of duty, at least in their own minds, went into free-fall. They conceded a penalty try when Steve Lander, the referee, to the bewilderment of most, adjudged that Wasps, by coming in from the wrong side of the maul following a line-out had prevented what would have been a certain score. Perhaps Mr Lander felt embarrassed for Bristol as most of their supporters. Tries followed from Barry Williams, Adam Vander, Nick Burrows and Andy Sheridan, two of them converted by Henry Honiball. The gap on the scoreboard closed but not the gulf in class on the field.

Bristol: L Best; D Rees, N Burrows, J Mayer, S Brown; H Honiball, A Pichot, P Johnstone, B Williams, P Lemoine, G Archer, A Brown, S Fenn, D Ryan (capt), A Vander.

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

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool)