It was immense. It was one for the players to savour, for the supporters to relive for weeks to come and, as the stand-off Alex King had said before the game, it was a defining moment of the season for Wasps. They had control of Pool One in the Heineken Cup and they had put all their demons behind them to earn a quarter-final place, at home, their first since winning the competition in 2004. "Some games build character and it was all about character," said the Wasps director of rugby, Ian McGeechan. "I think we'll be a lot better side for this."
The sight of the former France prop Gérard Cholley helping to escort the referee, Alan Lewis, off the pitch rather exaggerated the need to protect him from a crowd who felt too many important decisions had not been made, but the first half lived up to every expectation of a tightly fought battle between two uncompromising packs. Despite being penalised in less than a minute and King stepping up for a nerve-settling 35-yard kick, the charge up the middle remained the tactic of choice for a very physical French side.
But Wasps always managed to scramble things away, or bene-fited from a string of whistle blasts which had the crowd in near-apoplectic disagreement. Indeed, when Wasps drove into Castres territory they scored again, through a King drop goal, and again through his second penalty, made even easier when Mr Lewis marched everyone another 10 metres and into the Castres 22. He was not grateful for the advice of Steven Kefu.
The Castres attack looked more threatening, with the flanker Gerhard Vosloo often leading the charge off the back of the scrum or acting as an extra battering ram at centre alongside Kefu. But the Wasps defence was having an epic day. After the match Joe Worsley was off for a long session with the physiotherapist, and the team's discipline had McGeechan purring.
Finally, Castres had their penalty opportunities and the stand-off Cameron McIntyre, whose attacking kicks and deft distribution had been instrumental in keeping Castres on the attack, stepped up to land two. But he was not able to take the third from the halfway line when, close to half-time, he suffered an injury to his right leg and had to be carried off.
That left his replacement, Gordon Ross, with a 50-metre attempt as his first touch of the ball. Not surprisingly he missed, as he did a second from out on the right, but at 9-6 there was still all to play for. Those early points were invaluable, and after Tom Voyce made a break from a Fraser Waters pass to cut through a stretched defence it was always going to be tough for Castres.
Their forward effort was at last rewarded by a Pascal Pape try, converted by Ross, but the final 15 minutes were all about Wasps playing down the clock and denying Castres possession.
Castres: F Cermeno (F Carballo, 77); L Milford, S Kefu, P Christophers, J-B Peyras-Loustalet; C McIntyre (G Ross, 39), C Laussucq; C Hoeft, A Giorgadze (R Terrain, 48), D Saayman (Giorgadze, 80), P Pape, L Nallet (capt), G Vosloo, P Tabacco (R Capo Ortega, 63), A Manta (A Bias, 44).
Wasps: D Cipriani; J Lewsey, F Waters, D Waldouck, T Voyce; A King, E Reddan; T Payne, R Ibañez, P Vickery, S Shaw (M Purdey, 59), T Palmer, J Worsley, T Rees (D Leo, 59), L Dallaglio (capt).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).