Cipriani's absence adds to gloom as Wasps lose again

Gloucester 24 London Wasps 19: Sore ankle means a rest for stand-off three days after his remarkable comeback
Click to follow
The Independent Online

After his return in midweek against Bath, there was a degree of anticipation over seeing Danny Cipriani in a sequel. No such luck. The Wasps stand-off had been named as a replacement for this match, but yesterday morning all was not well.

Cipriani, who had made a remarkably quick recovery from a fractured and dislocated ankle, was "a bit sore" and Wasps, with an eye on the Heineken Cup next week, decided not to risk him. They wanted to give him 40 minutes, but thought better of it. We'll see. Danny boy did not bother to travel to the West Country.

The thing is, this is the Anglo-Welsh EDF Energy Cup and in the pecking order, in a crowded calendar, it is not up there with the Guinness Premiership and the Heineken Cup. This is reflected in a number of ways.

Gloucester may be a rugby-bonkers city, for example, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Kingsholm was nowhere near full and one of the reasons is that season-ticket holders are not covered for the EDF. They would have to have paid extra to attend.

Apart from the absence of Cipriani, Wasps had a far more unfamiliar look about them than the home side. The impression is that if you are in the fortunate position of having two home matches in your group rather than one, you will bust a gut to reach the semi-finals.

Wasps have one home tie and the question was whether they would be really up for this. It was certainly a test of the depth of their squad and they made a match of it – it was two tries apiece – without ever looking as if they would actually win. Afterwards Ian McGeechan, the Wasps director of rugby, was clutching at the short straw of a losing bonus point. He said: "To start this competition with two away games is a tough call."

At half-time Gloucester's lead had been reduced to a point, at 14-13, after the flanker James Haskell crossed for a try five minutes before the interval. A couple of weeks ago Haskell fell foul of the referee Martin Fox, when Wasps were beaten by Worcester. The England man was cited, and banned, for a head-butt but at a disciplinary hearing it was Fox who was the hunted, being criticised for not taking control of an ugly series of incidents.

Yesterday Haskell, under the eye of Mr Fox, got the rub of the green. At a ruck close to the Gloucester line the Wasps scrum-half Mark Robinson committed a knock-on which escaped the referee. Haskell picked up the loose ball to dive over. Fox called for an adjudication from the video official, who ruled that the try was good.

It was Robinson who had opened the scoring with a try in the sixth minute after Gloucester, in a high wind, missed their jumper at a line-out and Wasps counter-attacked to great effect. There was some slick handling to release Tom Voyce on the left and after the ball had been kept in play Robinson was able to get over in the corner, despite the large presence of Lesley Vainikolo.

That apart, the one-time England wing had a fine match, putting Gloucester ahead at 11-5. The Wasps defence was badly exposed on the left, having been stretched to the right, when Ryan Lamb chipped to the corner and Vainikolo – had this been soccer a linesman would have raised a flag – had so much time and space that he felt able to allow the ball to bounce. It fell his way.

Gloucester had two other backs who performed with distinction on an indistinct afternoon – Lamb and Willie Walker. Young Lamb, ultratalented but fragile, had been replaced at No 10 by Walker a few weeks ago but here the local boy was back at stand-off, with the New Zealander at full-back. It worked well enough, with Walker scoring 16 points by converting his own try and kicking three penalties. He was more accurate and reliable than Jeremy Staunton, the Wasps' stand-off, who was hit and miss.

Early in the second half Vainikolo not only made a powerful surge down the left flank but did something that suggests he is learning a few lessons. Instead of simply trying to run through defenders, he delivered a perfect inside pass to Walker, who went over at the posts.

The contest could never have been described as a walkover; but nor was it something significantly more satisfactory. As Paul Newman once said, why go out for a hamburger when you can have steak at home? A lot of season-ticket holders here chose to stay at home.

Gloucester: W Walker; M Foster, J Adams, M Tindall (capt), L Vainikolo; R Lamb, R Lawson; A Dickinson, O Azam (S Lawson, 49), D Young, M Bortolami (A Eustace, 47), A Brown, A Satala (P Buxton, 52), A Strokosch, A Hazell.

London Wasps: L Mitchell; M Odejobi, R Hoadley (D Walder, 56), D Waldouck, T Voyce; J Staunton, M Robinson (E Reddan, 47); T French (C Beech, 74), R Webber, M Holford, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Haskell, J Worsley(capt), S Betsen (D Leo, 64).

Referee: M Fox (England).