They are some outfit, these Wasps. They play at a ground in Buckinghamshire that doesn't appear on any satnav yet point them towards Twickenham and they treat it like their second home. Yesterday they consigned Leicester, once mighty Leicester, to another defeat in a big final as they won the Guinness Premiership, relieving the Midlands club of the title in the process.
The Wasps and the Tigers, who had won eight Premiership titles between them (almost a job for the Monopolies Commission), produced an admirable climax to the domestic season and, what's more, a fitting finale to the illustrious career of Lawrence Dallaglio.
The Wasps captain, who shed a tear before the start and a few more afterwards, said that the day wasn't about him and his retirement from the game but about the club, the club he joined as a teenager and stayed with through thick and thin. There was nothing thin about this and Dallaglio reckoned that Wasps' achievement in advancing from 10th in the Premiership to the play-offs, to the final and to ultimate victory was one of the highlights of his career. Ian McGeechan, the coach, certainly knows how to time a run.
But then so did Leicester, who had been standing on the trapdoor, not once but twice, and escaped in the last month with last-minute scores.
Here, the Tigers' powers of survival finally deserted them, and the same might be said of their coach Marcelo Loffreda. The fact is, the Leicester cupboard this season is bare and this is something the board is unlikely to tolerate despite the fact that the Argentinian has barely had time to hold a housewarming party.
What Tigerland will also find difficult to accept was the first-half performance of the team that was reminiscent of their anaemic display against the Ospreys in the final of the EDF Energy Cup at Twickenham. Wasps were all over them, dominating every facet of the game, and it is to Leicester's credit that they restricted the damage to two goals and four penalties to two tries and two penalties.
"We've basically been playing play-off rugby since November," Wasps' head coach Shaun Edwards said. "It was just a matter of trying to win the next game. I think we really started to believe in the Six Nations when we got into a run of winning games without the internationals. That's something we haven't done in the last two or three years.
"I think that's a great sign of resilience, but we knew we'd have a tough time against Leicester, who are great competitors also."
Would Wasps miss the stricken Danny Cipriani? Not really. Would Mark van Gisbergen be as successful a marksman as Andy Goode? The former kicked 16 points, the latter six, and Goode's misses represented a loss of 10 points. And would Dallaglio's back row make life uncomfortable for Martin Corry and company? Very much so.
Tom Rees was outstanding, but then so was Simon Shaw and Raphael Ibanez and... the list goes on. Wasps had no weaknesses (although they do have rather a large gap to fill on Dallaglio's departure) and many strengths, and for all Leicester's second-half comeback, during which they scored two tries and threatened to repair a 23-6 deficit, the wset London club had the greater passion and desire. And they also had the Dallaglio factor.
When Aaron Mauger was penalised for not rolling away after a tackle (a Leicester speciality), Van Gisbergen was on target with the penalty to give Wasps the lead after five minutes. A swarm of yellow and black flags were waved throughout the stadium, which was accommodating a world-record attendance for a club match.
It surpassed the previous record, established 12 months ago, when Wasps got the better of the Tigers here in the final of the Heineken Cup. You have to wonder where all these spectators come from. Often Wasps can barely summon 10,000 people to their little ground in High Wycombe yet yesterday they were everywhere.
As indeed was the team they were supporting, particularly in the first half. The Tigers were in retreat after getting on level terms within two minutes. Van Gisbergen failed to deal adequately with a rolling kick from Goode and the result was a penalty in front of the Wasps posts. Goode did not – a first this – take the kick at goal but he launched an attack to the left. No try, but it was another penalty, which this time Goode kicked.
Leicester's parity lasted for four minutes before Goode was turned in the tackle, providing Eoin Reddan with the room to launch a counter-attack. It enabled Wasps to set up base camp close to the Tigers' line from where, with surprising ease, Rees was able to muscle his way over for the sort of try that used to be Leicester's trademark. Van Gisbergen converted with an angled kick for a 10-3 lead and Wasps would not have been dismayed to see Tom Varndell, of all people, yelling at his side's defence. Varndell is an accomplished try-scorer but no tactician.
After Van Gisbergen and Goode had exchanged penalties, Wasps opened up a substantial lead. Van Gisbergen kicked another penalty in the 34th minute before Varndell, in attempting to rescue a lost cause by keeping a wayward pass in play, allowed Wasps to take flight.
Josh Lewsey, from long range, cut inside and once he eluded the tackle of Ben Herring (the wing might as well have gutted the flanker with a fish knife) the defence was broken. Van Gisbergen's conversion was his fifth successful kick out of five and gave his side a 17-point lead at half-time.
After Goode hit an upright with a penalty attempt, Leicester were back in it on 55 minutes when the stand-off's cross-kick was tapped back by Geordan Murphy and Varndell mopped up the loose ball, evading Lewsey in the process. Six minutes later Harry Ellis broke blindside from a close-range uncontested scrum – a couple of props were in disarray but really these clubs don't do uncontested scrums – and had the pace to evade James Haskell, who is no slouch.
But Goode couldn't buy a kick and Van Gisbergen, after his first failure which rebounded from the woodwork, kicked his fourth penalty in the 70th minute to restore Wasps' 10-point advantage. Dallaglio was confident enough to depart the field of battle for the last time. In future, though, he might well be seen on a touchline.
Man for man marking, by David Edwards
8 Mark van Gisbergen Not a regular these days, but looked like one yesterday. Rarely put under any pressure, and almost faultless with his goal-kicking, six from seven.
7 Paul Sackey His England showdown with Varndell was, like the game, a bit one-sided. The Wasp was a handful as always, and sound in defence, denying Ellis a certain try.
6 Fraser Waters Picked a bad day to leave Wasps after 15 years. But amid the Dallaglio-mania, kept the Leicester comeback at bay to show how he will be missed.
6 Dominic Waldouck Playing in the absence of Danny Cipriani, he wanted the ball, and got it frequently. Fast feet and strong hands, but could not find much space.
7 Josh Lewsey When Wasps were good, so was he. Strong and quick, made ground, scored a sharp try. But stayed with Tuilagi and let Ellis through for his try.
8 Riki Flutey Took Cipriani's shirt and with it the pressure of No 10. After a shaky start, his quick feet and hands kept Wasps moving forward. A very clever player, and performance.
7 Eoin Reddan In his element in the first half. His pack were majestic and he pulled the strings. Flattened by Tuilagi but was not on his backside for long.
7 Tim Payne He was in Julian White's face, which is not a nice place to be, and the Wasps scrum went forward. Injury meant uncontested scrums in the second half.
8 Raphaël Ibanez Hit his line-out jumpers and hit the open spaces with glee. The ex-France captain will start coaching at Wasps next season. Just show his display on video.
6 Phil Vickery Just made the game with his dodgy knee and barely made it over 5mph in his 40 minutes on the pitch, but played his part in a magical first half for Wasps.
7 Tom Palmer Won his line-out ball and added his weight to the cause. Wasps knocked Leicester out of most contact situations and Palmer did it more than most.
8 Simon Shaw Took over as captain after Dallaglio's exit but was leading from the front anyway. Made some big tackles but his handling was the abiding memory.
8 James Haskell Astonishing. So powerful and so influential for one so young (23). His only blot was being skinned by Ellis for Leicester's second try.
7 Tom Rees The oil in the machine. Linked well and forced several Leicester turnovers, where those Popeye arms were put to good use.
7 Lawrence Dallaglio Sixty-seven minutes of shrewd direction, then a few tears as he left the field for the final time. Could hardly have gone better – what a way to go.
7 Pat Barnard For Vickery (41). Huge hit soon after coming on.
6 Joe Ward For Ibanez (60). Kept up the good work.
6 Joe Worsley For Payne (60). Got under a maul to deny a try.
6 John Hart For Dallaglio (67). Replaced the irreplaceable.
Also: Richard Birkett for Palmer (79); Mark McMillan for Reddan (79); Jeremy Staunton for Waldouck (79).
6 Geordan Murphy Brilliant knock-back from Goode's cross-kick to set up Varndell's try but otherwise frustrating afternoon in attack. Never stopped trying, though.
7 Tom Varndell Began the Leicester fightback with sharp try after 55 minutes. Eager for work but not much ball found its way to the left wing.
6 Dan Hipkiss His place on the England tour could be in doubt as he suffered an eye injury in the first half. Largely on the back foot and was replaced at half-time.
6 Aaron Mauger Missed 10 first-half minutes through injury – not a bad idea as it turned out – but the New Zealander struggled to impose himself.
7 Alesana Tuilagi Provided Leicester's only first-half highlight when he rumbled up the right. With more ball, he could have really enjoyed himself.
5 Andy Goode Turned over by Flutey for Wasps' first try and let 10 points go begging with four missed kicks. Only bright spot was setting up Varndell's try.
8 Harry Ellis Marvellous competitor who cannot be kept quiet for long. Fine try and, but for the long arm of Sackey, would have had another.
5 Boris Stankovich Could not subdue Vickery in the scrum and could not defend the blind side when Rees scored his try. So not a great afternoon.
6 Mefin Davies The Welshman did his bit line-out-wise but that was the least of Leicester's problems. Like his team-mates, found himself up against it elsewhere.
6 Julian White Kept being popped up by Payne in the scrum and was getting no sympathy from referee Barnes. The loose is not his forté, to Leicester's regret.
6 Marco Wentzel Got knocked about in the loose, was robbed by Rees at one point and could not provide the impetus Leicester needed in the first half.
6 Ben Kay Likewise. Gave more grunt but frustration was summed up when he luckily escaped a yellow card for killing the ball – towards the end of the first half.
7 Martin Corry Clearly angered by Wasps' lack of front-row players, which led to uncontested scrums, and was no doubt irked by Dallaglio's triumph. Seems to be wilting.
5 Ben Herring Costly missed tackle on Lewsey, who breezed past to score. The breakdown area proved quite important too, and was second best there as well.
6 Jordan Crane Struggled manfully at the base of Leicester's scrum but had his hands full with several flying Wasps. Seemed to run out of gas quite early though.
6 Benjamin Kayser For Davies (46). Frenchman showed some fight.
6 Ayoola Erinle For Mauger (16-25), & Hipkiss (41). Could not deny his former club.
6 Tom Croft For Herring (56). Too little, too late.
6 Marcos Ayerza For Stankovich (56). Spurred the comeback.
Also: Christophe Laussucq for Ellis (80).Reuse content