Marvellous Michalak spells doom to Wasps

Toulouse 19 Wasps 13
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The Independent Online

Wasps' belief that a few recent wins in the Guinness Premiership made them potential winners in the Heineken Cup at Toulouse was blown away in the first 15 minutes of the match.

A roaring start by the Frenchmen which netted a lead of 13-0 and probably the try of the northern hemisphere season created a gap which was never closed. Wasps were highly competitive and their wily invention up front kept Toulouse within reach, but they seldom threatened to make a decisive breach in the ramparts and the Frenchmen confirmed their place in the quarter-finals. It will take an outstanding team to deny them the trophy.

It was to Toulouse's credit that not even one of the poorest refereeing performances in recent memory could stop them. The Welsh official Nigel Owens made a bad start by refusing to show yellow cards to Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey and he never improved. Both sides were allowed to get away with constant offside around the fringes, their frustration increased and what should have been a classic descended into a petty squabble for which Mr Owens' lack of control was chiefly to blame.

Dallaglio's contribution, bearing in mind his renewed England aspirations, was fascinating. The veteran back-rower reads a game like a book but he is struggling to recapture the pace he had at the start of the last Lions tour, when he was in such magnificent condition. His experience cannot be bettered but one wonders whether his constant dialogue with referees ultimately proves counter-productive.

Whether he plays for England in the Six Nations depends on what type of game England seek to employ. If they want to play the kind of static tactics in which they draw the sting and speed from their opponents, as Wasps tried to do yesterday, then Dallaglio's expertise and sheer craftiness in the forward exchanges is hard to match. But if they seek a fast and fluid game then the old stager might not be quite the candidate that some imagine and remember.

"There are a number of options in the [England] back row and I hope to be one of them," he said after the match. "But if it doesn't happen for me it doesn't mean it's the end of me as an international player. I will get better and better and better."

Toulouse's wonder try came after 14 minutes when their fly-half Frédéric Michalak skipped inside Johnny O'Connor's attempted tackle near his own line and launched a sweeping break. Florian Fritz took it on, Xavier Garbajosa switched the angle and Gareth Thomas cut yet another new line to finish off the audacious 90-metre move.

Jean-Baptiste Elissalde converted and his four penalties kept Toulouse ahead despite a first-half injury-time try from Raphael Ibañez. Fritz and Tim Payne were also shown yellow cards.

Toulouse: G Thomas (J-F du Bois, 49); V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz, X Garbajosa; F Michalak, J-B Elissalde; J-B Poux, Y Bru (capt), O Hasan (D Human, 74), F Pelous, T Brennan, J Bouilhou, F Maka (I Maka, 41), Y Nyanga (I Maka, 35-40).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey (A Erinle, 74), J Lewsey, S Abbott, T Voyce; J Staunton, M Dawson (E Reddan, 20-30); A MacKenzie, R Ibañez (J Barrett, 52-62), T Payne, S Shaw (R Birkett, 70), G Skivington, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor (J Hart, 67).

Referee: N Owens (Wales).