Dallaglio the sting in Johnson's tale

Leicester 14 - Wasps 39
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The Independent Online

It wasn't supposed to end like this. Martin Johnson's long goodbye was more like a farewell to arms as Leicester's bid to win the final of the Zurich Premiership turned to dust. In the gold watch final, Wasps did what they had done for the previous two seasons - timed their challenge to absolute perfection.

It wasn't supposed to end like this. Martin Johnson's long goodbye was more like a farewell to arms as Leicester's bid to win the final of the Zurich Premiership turned to dust. In the gold watch final, Wasps did what they had done for the previous two seasons - timed their challenge to absolute perfection.

Leicester, of course, had finished top of the Premiership a few weeks ago when, incidentally, they annihilated Wasps, but the men in black have got this play-off lark down to a fine art.

If the Tigers, whose ambition was to go out on a massive high, had to do the right thing by their veteran captain, Johnson, not to mention his team-mate Neil Back and the coach, John Wells, Wasps were carrying emotional baggage of their own. And it was they who provided the glittering send-off to their New Zealand coach, Warren Gatland, who is returning to his native country to coach Waikato. What an extraordinary job Gatland has done, not least in guiding Wasps to their third successive championship and all the while finishing runners-up at the end of the regular season.

Within a minute Wasps took a lead that was never remotely threatened, Mark van Gisbergen landing an excellent penalty after Josh Lewsey had brilliantly gathered a kick ahead. Leicester were still regrouping when a few minutes later Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps captain, smashed Ollie Smith to earth and the England centre's pass went to ground, where it was snapped up by Tom Voyce. With the Leicester full-back up in the line, Voyce had no one to beat as he ran 70 yards to score. Van Gisbergen added the conversion and by the seventh minute Wasps were 13-0 in front, the stand-off Alex King adding a drop-goal following a great phase of play. Very few people in the crowd thought that Johnson and Leicester would depart without throwing the kitchen sink, not to mention the waste disposal unit and the microwave, into overturning the deficit.

It never looked like happening, which is what makes this Leicester performance, which had so much riding on it, all the more untypical. Instead, it was their opponents who provided the heroes for the occasion. Dallaglio, who was immense, was named man of the match.

"I woke up this morning and all I heard was Leicester, Leicester, Leicester," he said. "And then all I heard about was Johnson and Back and that got me annoyed. We used it as a motivation in our dressing room."

Wasps had other contenders, notably Van Gisbergen, who scored 26 points, or Lewsey, who looked positively ravenous, or Simon Shaw or Joe Worsley. The latter two, shunned by the Lions, played as if they had a point to prove.

Although Andy Goode opened Leicester's scoring with a penalty in the 11th minute, Leicester's frustration repeatedly came to the surface as they conceded penalties for foul or undisciplined play.

Indeed Back (the Lions tour to New Zealand will be his swan-song before he joins the Tigers coaching staff), was fortunate not to receive a card of whatever complexion after flattening Worsley with a full-blooded punch to the mouth. Worsley was, literally, spitting blood from the right-hander. Johnson, meanwhile, had signalled his intentions to Matt Dawson, by smacking him on the head.

Leicester's threequarters had very little to offer and they looked increasingly sterile. When Worsley tackled Scott Bemand when the replacement scrum-half was not in possession, Goode kicked his second penalty to make it 13-6 and that was about as good as it got.

Leicester continued to pay the penalty for needless offences, such as Martin Corry, who has just returned from suspension, taking out Worsley. Van Gisbergen, who had just kicked a penalty from an acute angle, this time was successful from the halfway line and Wasps' 13-point lead had been restored by half-time.

Leicester did not learn. Two minutes into the second half, Johnson tackled Dawson around the neck and again Van Gisbergen stepped up to land the penalty.

Remarkably, at this stage of proceedings, it was the Tigers who were having to commit themselves to a ratio of five tackles to one to keep out the black jerseys that kept coming in waves. Goode landed his third penalty in the 50th minute but then normal service was resumed.

Leicester were now so rattled that Goode kicked the ball dead from a penalty and Graham Rowntree conceded yet another penalty for punching Will Green. Of course, Van Gisbergen punished them.

With 10 minutes remaining Wasps put the Tigers out of their misery with a lovely try from Van Gisbergen, set up by Lewsey and Shaw after Goode had kicked the ball straight to Voyce. Bemand got a late try for Leicester but even then Wasps responded with their third try, from Rob Hoadley who had just come on.

So, it's farewell to Johnno, Backy, Dowdy (Craig) and Greenie(Will). Of the four forwards, three are hanging up their boots and Green is joining Leinster. All that was missing was Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again". In fact, Johnson will be seen at Twickenham again in a testimonial match on 4 June.

"Know when it's time to go,'' Johnno said. If anything he overstayed his welcome.

Leicester: S Vesty (A Tuilagi, 68); G Murphy, O Smith, D Gibson, L Lloyd (A Healey, 50); A Goode, H Ellis (S Bemand, 18); D Morris (G Rowntree, 40), G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, L Deacon (L Moody, 40), M Corry, N Back.

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, A Erinle, J Lewsey, T Voyce (R Hoadley, 78); A King (J Brooks, 78), M Dawson (W Fury, 78); T Payne (C Dowd, 70), P Greening (T Leota, 70), W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Hart, L Dallaglio (capt), J Worsley (M Purdy, 78).

Referee: C White (RFU).

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