Wasps fall agonisingly short after Walder misses last-gasp penalty

Toulouse 18 Wasps 16
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The Independent Online

Sepp Blatter may not want it, but sometimes justice should be seen to be done, and none would agree more with that than David Lemi. Seven minutes after coming on as a substitute in the second half of a less than pulsating Heineken Cup game he beat a man with nightmare memories of European games against Wasps, Clément Poitrenaud, to win the chase for a touchdown under the posts.

Toulouse carried on playing, the raw-boned faithful thought they had got away with it and then referee George Clancy stopped the game. Two huge screens were showing the replay of what was clearly a try, and when the redoubtable Dave Walder slotted the conversion, Wasps, the bête noire et jaune of every Toulouse fan, were ahead with 15 minutes to go. The memory of that 77-17 defeat at Loftus Road in 1996 just won't go away.

Neither fairy tales nor horror stories come that easily, though, and it was left to David Skrela – whose father, Jean-Claude, played so magnificently in a distinguished back row that included Jean-Pierre Rives – who hoisted his penalty tally to six, including one that bounced off the crossbar, and with it the winning points. Wasps, at least, were left with the consolation of a loser's bonus point.

Rain and wind are familiar features of the Garonne Valley, so for the French to blame the quality of the first half on "British" weather was, as the French themselves might say, a little insouciant. There was a lot of rain, and Wasps were crucially let down by a lack of preparation in the scrum, which was exactly the area where Toulouse wanted to dominate. Most scrums were never completed but, please, "Crouch, touch, pause, engage" should not involve a pause long enough for a cup of tea.

Toulouse may be lying second in the domestic Top 14 championship, but the record so far is a symmetrical won two, drawn one and lost two. The draw with Brive was a last-gasp affair and losses to Castres and Montpellier revealed weaknesses. The last win at home, over the league leaders Racing Metro, had seen Racing take a second-half grip, not least among the forwards. Hence the cat and mouse games, especially in the front row, for most of the first-half scrums here. Also, the Toulouse coach, Guy Noves, had spent all the week emphasising the need for stomach and hunger. He has yet to put together back-to-back European championships.

"I think we played with passion and patience," said Noves afterwards. "They deserved praise, like us, and they could also have taken the four points. But we also worked on the scrum problems from last week and we prepared differently for this European Cup." But he still thinks that every new season starts at zero and wants stomach for work and hunger for victory.

A last- ditch opportunity to snatch victory in the dying minutes fell to Walder, who had at least varied his three-points-a-time march by landing a drop goal. But the penalty just inside the Toulouse half, and under intense pressure, proved just too much, especially as he had taken a knock only moments earlier. Wasps' director of rugby, Tony Hanks, said he had been brave enough to take it at all – which is what matters. "Dave is beating himself up enough," he said. "We share the good moments and we share the bad."

Simon Shaw, Wasps' veteran lock, said: "It was small technical aspects that let us down. We were always aware that the scrum would be a key area, but we had too little time to train as a group."

Noves has a larder of talent that would feed three British teams and he can afford to take a gamble such as the signing of Rupeni Caucaunibuca, just known as Caucau. The Fijian could, if Noves can control him, once again be an explosive force in the domestic Top 14 championship. If he turns up; if he trains; if he can keep his weight at the lower end of its 110 to 130kg fluctuations. A 130kg winger? Toulouse, it seems, have it all.

Toulouse: Penalties Skrela (6). Wasps: Try Lemi; Conversion Walder; Penalties Walder (2); Drop goal Walder.

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, C Heymans (M Medard, 60); D Skrela, B Kelleher; J-B Poux (D Human, W Servat (V Lacombe, 61), C Johnston, G Lamboley (Y Maestri, 51), R Millo-Chluski, Y Nyangarep L Picamole, 65), T Dusautoir (capt), S Sowerby.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; R Haughton (D Lemi, 57), B Jacobs, D Waldouck, T Varndell; D Walder, J Simpson (N Berry, 67); Z Taulafo, J Ward (R Webber, 45), B Broster (J Hobson, 45, rep C Beech, 78), S Shaw, R Birkett (J Cannon, 57), J Worsley (D Ward-Smith, 79), T Rees (capt), A Powell.

Referee G Clancy (Ireland).