Gloucester 24 Wasps 19: Wasps insist Cipriani is fit despite absence

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The Independent Online

Gloucester have never lost a home game in the EDF Energy Cup and, despite the scoreline, they were not going to lose this one. Forget the Aussie soap but home and away plays a dramatic role in the shake-up of this Anglo-Welsh competition.

There is a consensus that, in the pool stages, the club that has two home ties as opposed to one is odds-on to reach the knockout stage. In theory there is little wrong with the tournament and, in the professional age, the heavyweights want to win everything but the fact is they tend to reserve their energy for the Guinness Premiership and the Heineken Cup.

Wasps, the reigning Premiership champions, have not won a sausage this season aside from a resounding win against Leicester at Welford Road. Perverse. Here, as so many teams do in this cross-border affair, they chose to rest a lot of key players. To say they failed to give it their best shot on Saturday would be inaccurate but the ammunition was not being fired by their best armoury, even if it ended with two tries apiece.

"To start with two away games is a tough call," Ian McGeechan, the Wasps director of rugby, acknowledged. This was not an admission that they had given up the ghost on winning this thing but nor was it a rallying call. Wasps have not won away from home in this tournament in three years and they have not won at Kingsholm since May 2006. On Saturday McGeechan, who thought his forwards were "outstanding", was asked if his commitment to the Lions tour to South Africa next year was distracting him from his day job. "The only thing I want to see is Wasps doing well," he replied.

The fact is, they are not and the late removal from the replacements' bench of their playmaker Danny Cipriani, after his return against Bath in midweek, led to speculation that his ankle was not as robust as everybody had been led to believe. Wasps said all was well, he was simply a "bit sore" and that he would be back this week for a sip of the Heineken. Let's hope so.

McGeechan said: "Danny is just sore. It's a three-day recovery and it was just too quick, which is why we decided not to have him on the bench today. He has played his first game for months and, in the end, it was too quick to have him back. There is no problem – he's fit."

Dean Ryan, Gloucester's director of rugby, also chose to rest a few key players but, by and large, his selection was more potent and profitable. The New Zealander Willie Walker has been excellent so far this season, in whatever position he has played. When Ryan Lamb looked vulnerable a few weeks back, Walker stood in at stand-off and here, with Olly Morgan given a breather, he contributed 16 points from full-back, converting his own try and kicking three penalties.

Lamb, restored to No 10, also came good, dropping a fine goal from long distance in a gale that made kicking a hit-or-miss affair, and then chipping to the left-hand corner where a spent Wasps defence had nobody to prevent Lesley Vainikolo from waiting for a few seconds to collect a favourable bounce before touching down. "Ryan ran our attack very well," Dean Ryan said.

The young stand-off, confidence restored after a spell on the bench, also had a significant hand in Gloucester's second try early in the second half which opened up a 21-13 lead. Vainikolo, who had also got off to a subdued start to the campaign, found space down the left flank and finally he did the right thing. Instead of trying to bulldoze his way through defenders he delivered a perfect inside-pass to the unmarked Walker.

"I'm never happy with our performance," coach Ryan said, "but I'm really happy with the win." Was the game, with so many frontliners absent, somehow devalued? "Not at all. This was Gloucester versus Wasps." Unusually for him, he could barely disguise the hint of a smile.

Gloucester: Tries Vainikolo, Walker; Conversion Walker; Penalties Walker 3; Drop goal Lamb. Wasps: Tries Robinson, Haskell; Penalties Staunton 2, Walder.

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 Hazell, A Strokosch.

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, S Betsen (D Leo, 64), J Worsley (capt).

Referee: M Fox.

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