London Wasps 30 Stade Français 29 match report: Wasps’ familiar errors cut lead for Paris trip
Champions Cup: Wasps’ familiar errors cut lead for Paris trip
And so it came to pass that in the first days after the revolution that changed the face of European rugby for ever, two members of the old Heineken Cup aristocracy squared up to each other in pursuit of a meaningful place in the new order. Wasps, twice winners of the northern hemisphere’s most sought-after title, and Stade Français, who should have reached the summit in 1999 and might easily have done so two years later, must do it all over again in Paris in five days’ time and if the Londoners are not to end up down and out, they will have to man the barricades with a passion.
Which makes the second leg of this inaugural play-off for the right to participate in next season’s brand spanking new European Rugby Champions Cup well worth savouring in advance.
The men from the French capital could have Sergio Parisse, the world’s finest No 8, and Digby Ioane, the exiled Wallaby wing, available for duty following injury – not the kind of news bulletin to make their opponents feel better about life as they prepare to head across the water – but these inexperienced Wasps reminded us yesterday that they know how to score tries. Whether they can stop leaking them is another matter entirely.
They will travel with a lead of sorts but an advantage of the one-point variety will not add up to much if they defend as they did here and it is not yet clear that Chris Bell, their captain, took the right option in asking Andy Goode to take aim at the sticks with the last kick of the match.
There was never any question that the former England outside-half would hit the spot following an offside call against the Stade Français midfield defence as the home side laid siege at the death – it was a chipping-wedge shot and nothing more – but Bell could have gone to the corner in search of the seven points that would have given him and his colleagues a little more breathing space.
Not that David Young, the Wasps rugby director, was in any mood to condemn the call. “If I’m honest,” the three-tour Lions prop said in that seen-it-all-before tone of his, “I don’t think it would have made much difference either way, because as soon as this play-off tie was confirmed, I assumed we’d have to win both matches to make it through. Even if we went over there up by five, it would be very dangerous for us to sit back and let them play in the hope that they don’t score heavily enough. Do that, and they’ll score plenty.
“Anyway, my overriding feeling is one of pride, because we went toe to toe with a very powerful side full of players of international quality. Can we get ourselves up for one last game? I think so. It’s been a long season but if players can’t carry some bumps and bruises into a match of this magnitude, I’d be asking questions of them. And I have no questions of this group in that regard. The only thing that frustrates me is that Achilles heel of ours. We work hard to score our points, then concede cheap ones. It happens a lot, unfortunately.”
He was not far wrong. Wasps were sitting pretty at 27-15 after an hour following one of the scrum-half Joe Simpson’s “Billy Whizz Specials” – a trademark score completed at high speed from 70-odd metres following the barely explicable breakdown of a Stade Français attack that had seemed certain to bear fruit. Yet from the restart, Simpson’s exit kick was charged down by the ruggedly industrious lock Pascal Papé and when the ball bounced conveniently for Jérôme Fillol, the Frenchman’s finish tight to the left corner was nothing short of inspired.
Fillol’s wide-angled conversion was every bit as precise and suddenly the Parisians were back in the argument. Ten minutes later, they were winning it, courtesy of Waisea Vuidravuwalu’s broken-field brilliance – a Fijian speciality that allowed him to strike from deep inside his own territory with a little help from those Wasps backs who, for reasons best known to themselves, decided against any meaningful attempt at a tackle. In the final analysis, that misplaced generosity may well cost the Londoners a seat at the posh table come October.
There again, the match officials were guilty of extending the hand of friendship to Stade Français shortly after the interval, when James Haskell’s runaway score from a fluffed line-out routine was ruled out on video evidence, which was said to have revealed a knock-on by Tom Palmer. Except it didn’t.
Julien Dupuy, the visiting half-back, was the man who laid hands on the ball rather than the England lock. Had Wasps not scored almost immediately through the excellent Ashley Johnson following a cultured piece of kick-ahead football from Goode that might have made Roy Hodgson wonder whether he had his World Cup selection absolutely right, there would have been a good deal of righteous anger.
Some followers of European rugby are praying the Parisians make it into the draw for the new tournament: they argue that a competition claiming elite status for itself can ill afford to go ahead without players as thrilling as the centre Vuidravuwalu, the full-back Hugo Bonneval and the outside-half Jules Plisson, let alone the peerless Parisse. Besides, Stade Français have a history of treating cross-border competition with the seriousness it deserves, unlike some other French clubs we could mention.
Yet Wasps, a long way down English rugby’s rich list and struggling to attract a crowd to their increasingly unsuitable home in High Wycombe – barely 6,000 turned up yesterday – will bring something of their own to Europe next term, if they can find a way of getting themselves involved.
They may not be the powerhouse club of the Lawrence Dallaglio era, but if the likes of Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes continue to scale the heights in adversity, no one will accuse them of being unworthy.
Wasps: Tries Varndell, Johnson, Simpson; Conversions Goode 3; Penalties Goode 3. Stade Français: Tries Taulafo, Camara, Fillol, Vuidravuwalu; Conversions Fillol 2, Dupuy. Penalty Dupuy.
Wasps A Masi; W Helu, E Daly, C Bell (capt), T Varndell; A Goode, J Simpson; M Mullan (S McIntyre, 61), C Festuccia (T Lindsay, 65), P Swainston (T Vea, 69), J Launchbury, T Palmer (K Myall, 49), A Johnson (G Thompson, 65), J Haskell, N Hughes (Johnson, 77).
Stade Français H Bonneval; J Arias, W Vuidravuwalu, M Bosman, D Camara (J Sinzelle, 63); M Steyn (J Plisson, 53-72 and 74), J Dupuy (J Fillol, 55); S Taulafo (H Van der Merwe, 48), L Sempere (L Panis, 53; Slimani, 77), R Slimani (D Kubrishvili, 48), A Flanquart (A Van Zyl, 62), P Pape (capt), A Burban, S Nicolas (S Lavalla, 2), D Lyons.
Referee J Lacey (Ireland).
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