London Wasps 25 Clermont Auvergne 24: Cipriani's thrills and spills contribute to heavyweight bout

Tempers fray but King manages to keep heir in his place
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The Independent Online

By Hugh Godwin at Adams Park

These back-to-back Heineken Cup pool matches tend to breed contempt through familiarity but any idea that much-changed Clermont might take the rematch easy was dispelled as they pushed Wasps all the way. A second-half brawl spilled over the touchline and involved a spectator and it was but one lively aspect as high-quality tries from both sides and dashes of magic by Wasps' Danny Cipriani made for a red-hot evening.

Wasps were leading 22-10 when a clutch of players bundled towards the advertising hoardings. The upshot was a yellow card for Clermont's Canadian flanker, Jamie Cudmore, for punching but there were angry gestures at the crowd by the visitors' Argentina prop, Martin Scelzo, who appeared provoked by a home spectator attempting to tap some part of his body with a programme.

The twists and turns continued to the final whistle, which blew after a Wasps old boy, Alex King, converted a try by Emmanuel Etien, a replacement flanker. Wasps got the win but a potentially invaluable bonus point went to Clermont.

In a Pool Five campaign which concludes for Wasps away to Munster, the minimum requirement was a bonus-point victory. The cup holders were halfway there within 13 minutes, after tries by the scrum-half Eoin Reddan and wing Tom Voyce. The first was authored by Clermont's misfortune to mishandle a maul on their 22. Reddan hacked on and scored, Cipriani adding the conversion.

Wasps left out their tight-head prop, Phil Vickery, after an alleged stamp a week ago for which the England captain faces a citing hearing. Those permitted to play were making a good fist of it. Cipriani's sharpness was evident as Wasps attacked from a line-out and quick, flat passes by Riki Flutey, Josh Lewsey and Paul Sackey put Voyce in at the left corner.

Clermont, with a match against Toulouse next Friday on their minds, retained only six of last week's XV in a 22-man squad of eight nationalities, including King, the English fly-half who had scored precisely 400 points in European competition before yesterday, 398 of them in 12 years at Wasps.

So it was according to the man on the public address the hairless wonder (King) versus the heir apparent, Cipriani. Less amusing was the same wag's welcome to King and his family while expressing the wish that the former loyal servant would finish on the losing side.

Cipriani kicked a penalty after 17 minutes then had a prominent part in a fine length-of-the-field try. From a turnover James Haskell cleverly set up the position from which Flutey fed Cipriani, who exchanged passes with Fraser Waters before passing to his left for Sackey to race over near the posts. Cipriani's conversion made it 22-0 before King kicked a simple penalty.

Lewsey limped off early in his first appearance since injuring a hamstring in the World Cup semi-final in mid-October but otherwise things were going swimmingly for Wasps. Cipriani, the 20-year-old England candidate, found that adventure can cut both ways four minutes into the second half. A wide pass to Waters looked troublesome to Clermont until Cipriani's cross-kick in the other direction, meant for Voyce, found Aurlien Rougerie. He brushed Voyce off and ran up the right from his 22, pausing only to sidestep Cipriani, for a fine individual try converted by King.

Then came the touchline dust-up before Rougerie's replacement, Vilimoni Delasau, ran 70 metres for a try in the 64th minute, again improved by King. There were chances for the crucial fourth try wasted by Wasps when Sackey and Dan Leo could not hold on to the ball. Cipriani moved his side eight points clear after 78 minutes with a penalty and King slid a penalty wide of the posts with a minute of added time. But Clermont's forwards, among whom the World Cup winning hooker John Smit was switched to prop after the furious Scelzo's substitution, kept coming for Etien's climactic contribution and King's conversion.

London Wasps: J Lewsey (M van Gisbergen, 29); P Sackey, F Waters, R Flutey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan; T Payne, R Ibanez, N Adams (T French, 59), S Shaw, G Skivington, J Haskell (D Leo, 66), L Dallaglio (capt), T Rees.

Clermont Auvergne: S Bai; A Rougerie (V Delasau, 62), G Esterhuizen, P-M Garcia (R Chanal, 66), J Malzieu; A King, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, J Smit, M Scelzo (M Ledesma, 59), A Jacquet, C Samson (P Vigoroux, 59), J Cudmore, E Vermeulen, F Alexandre (E Etien, 46).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).