Walder warms to task in Wasps' stirring second-half demolition

Wasps 37 Newport-Gwent Dragons 10
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The Independent Online

Wasps took control of Heineken Cup Pool Six for two reasons: a superb second-half transformation and the fact that Toulouse do not play their home tie against Glasgow now until tomorrow night following two postponements.

Inspired by former England fly-half David Walder and future England scrum-half Joe Simpson, Wasps turned a 0-3 deficit after 39 minutes into a rousing four-try bonus-point win that sees them three points clear of their main rivals.

This victory swings the pressure onto to Toulouse, whose final pool match in January is here, where yesterday's sprinkling of hardy souls will become a jam-packed house of 10,000.

Rugby director Tony Hanks was thrilled by the outcome of an initially difficult day. "We were rapt that the game went ahead. It's credit to everyone involved getting the game on and the right areas clear," he said. "It shows what you can do if you invest in your pitch. The pitch was great and the under-soil heating worked.

"We were also pleased at the number who braved the elements because they had to walk to the game if they wanted to come. The team got a call last night and were told to get here early. They were here for breakfast. To finish the way they did was great.

"We looked in good shape in the second half. That allowed us to play the rugby we wanted to, right until the end. We had a lot of respect for the Dragons, and to be fair to them they really came at us."

Having warned supporters there were neither car parking facilities nor park-and-ride options, Wasps were surprised by the number who somehow made their way in the snow, including coachloads of Newport loyalists who had plenty to cheer during the first half.

Their team dominated in the tight, took an early lead through Matt Jones with a penalty – but, crucially, lacked the cutting edge to turn their superiority into points in the face of tremendous Wasps defence.

Walder, having missed a penalty seconds earlier, levelled for Wasps with another on the stroke of half-time, the whistle for which was the most exciting thing the home support had experienced since setting out on their sleds.

Some ear-warming advice from the coaching staff, however, saw a very sharper Wasps resume play. Walder's second penalty edged them ahead, Jones missed a shot to level and from then on, the roof creaked over Newport before falling in completely.

Walder made a storming break on 49 minutes, fired out a pass wide left to David Lemi, and although the Samoa international was halted inches from the line, Wasps recycled quickly and Joe Worsley drove hooker Joe Ward over from two yards.

The pin into the Newport balloon didn't cause a bang, just a slow hiss of escaping hope. And things got worse for the visitors when England centre Riki Flutey came on in place of Steve Kefu for his first action since an October injury. His creative spark was evident within minutes.

Simpson and Walder combined, the fly-half armed Flutey, who ran hard at the defence before passing with exquisite timing to provide Mark van Gisbergen with a score by the right-hand flag.

Walder and Flutey were at the core of the action again when Tom Varndell took a short pass from Nic Berry to score behind the posts with 11 minutes remaining, and it was Will Matthews who gave Berry the pass to dart over for the bonus-point fourth try.

Aled Brew's late try, converted by Jones, was like something left over from Newport's first-half display, when they were so clearly the better side.

Scorers: Wasps: Tries Ward, van Gisbergen, Varndell, Berry; Conversions Walder (4); Penalties Walder (3). Newport Gwent Dragons: Try Brew; Conversion Jones; Penalty Jones.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Varndell, B Jacobs (c), S Kefu (R Flutey, 60), D Lemi; D Walder, J Simpson (N Berry, 67); Z Taulafo, J Ward (R Haughton, 67), B Broster (B Baker, 68), S Shaw, J Cannon, J Worsley (M Veale, 70), W Matthews, S Betsen.

Newport Gwent Dragons: P Leach; A Hughes (T Cheeseman, 75), T Riley, A Smith (c), A Brew; M Jones, W Evans (J Leadbeater, 71); H Gustafson, S Jones (L Burns, 54), B Castle, L Charteris (R Sidoli, 41), S Morgan, L Evans, G Thomas, T Faletau (D Lydiate, 52).

Referee: C Berdos (France)