Leicester 17 Wasps 22: Redemption day for Staunton

Former Quin puts relegation nightmare behind him to kick Wasps through
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The Independent Online

At the fag end of last season Jeremy Staunton might have envied a chameleon's gift for camouflage. The Irishman missed a penalty for Harlequins with the last kick of the match against Sale and it resulted in the London club disappearing from the Premiership. It was described by Mark Evans, the Quins chief executive, as the "most expensive miss in the history of professional rugby", a statement which did nothing to console a distraught Staunton.

He was soon out of the door at the Stoop and attempted to revive his fortunes at Wasps, where he was to be the pretender to Alex King. Yesterday, in the absence of the injured King, Staunton stepped up to the mark and kicked Wasps to an extraordinary victory over Leicester in the first semi-final of the Powergen Cup. What was odd about it is that Staunton scored 17 points and his opposite number Andy Goode, one of the most prolific scorers in the Premiership, contributed a solitary conversion as the Tigers scored three tries to one.

Wasps, who made a premature exit from the Heineken Cup, had targeted this new fangled Anglo-Welsh version of the competition - it will have to be called something else next year because Powergen are pulling the plug - as a form of compensation. Judging by the crowd in Cardiff, Wasps could receive a handsome return for reaching the final, which will be played at Twickenham, their home from home, on 9 April.

Wasps had to reorganise their back line a few minutes before the start when the full-back Mark van Gisbergen suffered a back spasm after the warm up. Tom Voyce moved from the wing to full-back and the replacement centre Ayoola Erinle played on the left wing.

They also had to withstand a sustained assault by Leicester in the second half. The Tigers pack were beginning to take control, the Wasps front row were feeling the pressure and when Leon Lloyd got Leicester's second try in the 46th minute to make it just 12-10 to Wasps, it looked as if the Tigers were heading for Twickenham.

The game-breaker, and the heartbreaker for the Tigers, arrived in the 74th minute when they were laying siege to the Wasps line and probing every nook and cranny. They had won about a dozen phases of possession when they were floored by a sucker punch.

Sam Vesty knocked on a pass on the Wasps 22 and Raphael Ibañez and Jonny O'Connor swiftly transferred the ball to Erinle. The man who was not meant to play made a beeline for the Leicester line, ignored the unmarked Voyce on his left and handed off Goode to score at the posts.

"That's about the first time this season that we turned defence into attack," Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps captain, said. "We had been playing some rubbish rugby and we sorted it out at a meeting a couple of weeks ago. We're back to the way we can play. We got our noses in front and had enough to hold them."

Dallaglio, of course, was one of the central characters in the England subplots lurking in a collision between two of the super heavyweights. When he tugged the jersey of Martin Corry, the current England captain aimed a punch at Dallaglio's face without making much of a connection. Dallaglio also had the unique distinction of being attacked by not one but two England scrum-halves: Austin Healey, who also threw a punch at his former Test colleague, and Harry Ellis, who had a little dig with his boot.

Ellis and Matt Dawson were second-half replacements but it is at stand-off where a fresh injection of class is so badly needed. A half, a half, our kingdom for a half. Where have the No 10s gone? Staunton's goal kicking was invaluable to Wasps but he is no showstopper and the same goes for Goode, who has had better days.

Leicester had to rely on Healey for a touch of inventiveness. The scrum-half's chip was deflected out of Josh Lewsey's arms by Lloyd, into the hands of Tom Varndell. The wing, with very little room to manoeuvre, scorched Voyce (his Achilles heel) on the outside.

Staunton, who had kicked three very good penalties, one of them being put in range by Leicester being marched back another 10 yards for dissent, landed a fourth on the stroke of half-time. Trailing 12-5, the Tigers were back in the hunt when Lloyd rounded off a neat move sparked by a break by Healey from a scrum.

Wasps were now under the cosh but again Staunton gave them a breather with his fifth penalty. After Erinle's breakout Leicester continued to go for the jugular and Dan Hipkiss got their third try in injury time. It may as well have been the kiss of death as the Tigers slumped to their knees.

Leicester: S Vesty; G Murphy, D Hipkiss, L Lloyd, T Varndell; A Goode, A Healey (H Ellis, 63); G Rowntree (M Holford, 77), G Chuter, J White, L Deacon, B Kay (L Cullen, 75), M Corry (capt), H Tuilagi (S Jennings, 31), L Moody.

Wasps: T Voyce; J Lewsey, F Waters, S Abbott (J Brooks, 64), A Erinle; J Staunton, E Reddan (M Dawson, 64); A McKenzie (J Dawson, 49), R Ibañez, T Payne, S Shaw (G Skivington, 79), R Birkett, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).