Betsen leads Wasps' surge into seventh
London Wasps 34 Gloucester 3: Champions have eye on Heineken Cup after downing drained Gloucester
Scrapping over side-door or even back-door routes into the Guinness Premiership play-offs and the Heineken Cup is not what either of these clubs are accustomed to, but in this comparatively wretched season for both they have left the dizzy heights to Wasps' retiring Josh Lewsey, whose next challenge is climbing Mount Everest next year.
The sliderules and calculators sorting out the four sides who will tilt at the Premiership title were deployed with meaning at other grounds around the country. Leicester and Harlequins qualified for home semi-finals, which raised the delicious prospect of Quins' head honcho, Dean Richards, crossing swords with his old club at Twickenham on May 16. Wasps' much-celebrated bonus-point try by Simon Shaw – one of the club's four Lions tourists named by the head coach, Ian McGeechan, who also happens to be Wasps' director of rugby – secured seventh place in the Premiership, which would sneak them into next season's Heineken Cup if Bourgoin win this year's second-tier European Challenge Cup.
"I've been on the internet trying to buy replica Bourgoin shirts," quipped Shaun Edwards, Wasps' head coach. The French side host Worcester in the last four next Saturday, and will play the winners of Northampton v Saracens in the final. If any of the English sides win the tournament they will take the remaining Heineken spot and Wasps, whose worst league finish this was since they were seventh in 2002, will be uncommonly bereft.
Gloucester wound up sixth, and in the Heineken Cup, and the irony at that outcome being greeted in gloom while Wasps were upbeat was not lost on the Kingsholmites' head coach, Dean Ryan, who has had eight days from hell. An EDF Energy Cup final thrashing by the Cardiff Blues and a home league defeat by Worcester on Tuesday left Gloucester chasing tries here, but they could have been chasing all night.
Ryan joined Gloucester from Bristol in 2002 and was promoted to head coach in June 2005; his team finished top of the Premiership in 2003, 2007 and 2008, but while Gloucester have been hunting trophies Wasps – a club Ryan once played for – have been the gatherers, nabbing the Premiership four times since 2003 and Heineken Cups in 2004 and 2007.
"We knew we were on our last legs, and to push us into a three-game week was like a public hanging," said Ryan, who also made a plea to the powers that be for patience. "There will be a review process, and I will speak to the chairman, but we have to be careful about how we manage change, rather than destroy some things that are good just to start again. Most of the desire to pull it apart is external, in the media."
If Ryan's reign is to end, the media will quickly link his name with a vacancy at the ambitious Exeter Chiefs, which two other Premiership coaches of recent vintage, Richard Hill and Clive Griffiths, might also fancy.
Lewsey marked the 262nd and final appearance of his Wasps career (he has two Barbarians matches to come) with a gladiator's solitary entrance afforded by his team-mates before kick-off. Others are bidding farewell – including Riki Flutey, Tom Palmer and James Haskell, who are all off to France – but none have Lewsey's distinguished, long service.
Tom Voyce, who is joining Gloucester in the summer, scored Wasps' second try in the 37th minute. The build-up was smart and snappy – everything that fast-disintegrating Gloucester were not – with Joe Simpson's step and Joe Worsley's charge allowing Danny Cipriani to shift the ball right, where Flutey and Dom Waldouck combined to send Voyce over. Cipriani celebrated his touchline conversion with a kiss blown to the crowd – and why not, as the fly-half had kicked beautifully – but he did not appear for the second half after rolling his troublesome ankle. The fly-half will be on England's tour of Argentina and may have the metal plate removed from his ankle thereafter.
Earlier, Wasps led 10-0 through Cipriani's penalty and conversion of Flutey's try at the left corner in the 15th minute. Lewsey chased Cipriani's chip after Gloucester had conceded a penalty in the Wasps half, and combined with Waldouck to strip Olly Morgan of the ball and feed Flutey.
Gloucester eked a couple of scrum penalties but the home side, even with a seven-man pack while Rob Webber was in the sin-bin, conceded no points, as Gloucester were not bothered with goal-kicks. Olly Barkley, who is believed to be returning soon to Bath as one of several Gloucester departees, kicked a penalty after 33 minutes but Cipriani replied and the Voyce score had Wasps 20-3 up at the interval.
Wasps knew they had to press on for the bonus point. Serge Betsen, who played magnificently on the flank, was called back for a knock-on, but Flutey seized on a fumble by Barkley to score with 22 minutes left. Gloucester had little left, but it took Wasps until the 77th minute to go over again. Betsen was well held, but the ball popped left for Shaw to finish.
London Wasps: L Mitchell; T Voyce, D Waldouck, R Flutey, J Lewsey; D Cipriani (J Staunton, 40), J Simpson; T Payne (J Ward, 77), R Webber, P Vickery (C Beech, 65), S Shaw (H Ellis, 77), G Skivington (R Birkett, 56), J Worsley (M Robinson, 77), J Hart (Ward, 24-34; J Haskell, 49), S Betsen (capt).
Gloucester: O Morgan; C Sharples, H Trinder, O Barkley, M Foster; C Spencer, R Lawson (D Lewis, 58); A Dickinson (Somerville, 58), S Lawson (A Titterrell, 44), G Somerville (N Wood, 44; D Williams, 64), A Eustace (A Brown, 44), M Bortolami, L Narraway, G Delve (capt), A Satala.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).
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