Wasps emerged at Welford Road on Saturday to the strains of Ritchie Blackmore riffing on his Fender Stratocaster. When the sound of "Smoke on the Water" had cleared, however, it was the memory of the red mist and discordant tone of Shaun Edwards from Cardiff seven days previously that filled the senses of the European champions – and fuelled them to a 15-point turnaround against the reigning kings of English rugby, 34-24 victors against them in the semi-final of the EDF Energy Cup at the Millennium Stadium.
Just because the Wasps head coach, speaking in bald terms, happens to have little need for a Vidal Sassoon VS935 does not mean he is unable to dispense the hair-dryer treatment for the benefit of others. "That's what we got," Fraser Waters said, reflecting back to last weekend. "A few tables and chairs were thrown around after the game. Shaun was an angry man and I think that filtered down to the team's performance today." Just a bit. Waters himself was smokin', the outside-centre blazing a try-scoring trail through the nominal home guard twice in the first 21 minutes.
Having rearranged the dressing room furniture in Cardiff, Edwards – scheming in tandem with Ian McGeechan, Wasps' wily director of rugby – repositioned the playing units at his disposal, achieving an impressive turning of the tables on Leicester.
Tom Rees, thankfully recovered from knee ligament damage, was drafted into a back-row re-shuffled following the suspension of Lawrence Dallaglio. He brought with him a re-energising element on the blindside flank. It was the subtle switch of Danny Cipriani from outside-half to full-back for the opening hour and then back again for the final quarter that proved a masterstroke.
The first part of the equation, with Dave Walder starting in the No 10 position, helped to nullify the threat from Andy Goode, the match-winner for Leicester the previous weekend. The second part clinched the game, Danny Boy waltzing round four defenders from 20 yards out for the crucial score, three minutes after stepping up into the fly-half role.
"I just thought the defences were tiring a little bit and there's no one better at exploiting that than Danny," Edwards said, reflecting on the astute call he made from the sidelines, just as Walder had kicked a long-range penalty to edge Wasps back in front, 17-16.
If Martin Johnson is England's Most Wanted, then what about the mastermind of this momentous result in the totemic Tiger's long-time lair?
It was Wasps' first win at Welford Road in the professional era, the Londoners' first in a league fixture there in 18 attempts. They did win at Leicester in a Pilkington Cup semi-final in 1995, a 25-22 success that came courtesy of 20 Rob Andrew points. On that occasion, they proceeded to lose the Twickenham final, 36-16 to Bath. Whether they can finish with a flourish at red-rose HQ this time remains to be seen, but their push for the Guinness Premiership play-offs has serious momentum now.
In the eighth minute on Saturday their pack produced a mighty shove to win a scrum against the head and furnish Waters with possession for the opening score. In terms of Wasps' season, it could prove to be a pivotal statement of intent. McGeechan commented: "It's getting tighter and tighter and there will be a few more twists and turns before the end of the season. We've got to keep winning but if we keep playing like that, we will give ourselves a chance."
Leicester: Try Rabeni; Conversion Goode; Penalties Goode 4. Wasps: Tries Waters 2, Cipriani; Conversions Walder 2, Cipriani; Penalty Walder.
Leicester: J Murphy; T Varndell, S Rabeni, D Hipkiss, A Tuilagi; A Goode, H Ellis; M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 65), M Castrogiovanni (J White, 62), L Deacon (B Deacon, 77), B Kay (R Blaze, 49), M Corry (capt), T Croft, J Crane.
Wasps: D Cipriani; P Sackey, F Waters, R Flutey, J Lewsey; D Walder (D Waldouck, 61), E Reddan; T Payne (T French, 56), R Ibanez (capt) (J Buckland, 60), P Vickery (P Barnard, 56), S Shaw, T Palmer, J Haskell, T Rees (R Webber, 74), J Hart.
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).Reuse content