Perpignan 19 Wasps 12: Lewsey injury threatens Test place

Centre's knee problem deepens English worries as Wasps make a crucial point in defeat
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The Independent Online

Despite a glorious setting, this awful match sadly, but almost inevitably for England, included another injury to a key player when Josh Lewsey limped off in the second half, gingerly flexing his right knee. The initial diagnosis was a strained medial ligament which, if confirmed, is bound to put the Wasps centre's participation against New Zealand at Twickenham on Sunday in doubt.

Perpignan's lively supporters cheered the win in the warm Mediterranean sun, but Wasps - trusting, no doubt, that they can yet play their way into better form than they are currently showing - are likely to reflect with more satisfaction on a bonus point grittily earned.

The brass band at one end of the Stade Aimé Giral did their best to lift the spirits, although they had to vie for earspace with the crowd's disgruntled whistling at referee Donal Courtney's leniency in letting Wasps get away with a couple of crooked line-out throws and forward passes. Perpignan got the only try, very early on, but were unable to cut loose.

Wasps fielded their quartet of players - Lewsey, Tom Palmer, Tom Rees and Paul Sackey - from the England squad of 30 due to be whittled down tomorrow to the Test team to face the All Blacks.

Two more men with a chance of being called up for the Argentina match six days later - Lawrence Dallaglio and Phil Vickery - were each making their fourth appearance after a delayed start to the season.

Dallaglio might have pricked up his ears at the news from home of a knee injury to the Gloucester No 8 James Forrester, but yesteday the Wasps captain did not look in anything like international nick.

And yet another worry for England was the absence from this Pool One fixture of Perry Freshwater. The Perpignan and former Leicester prop had been tipped as a possible starter against the All Blacks, but he failed to get through an eve-of-match fitness test on the ankle problem - originally a suspected broken leg, no less - he picked up in Perpignan's opening European win away to Treviso.

That left Perpignan with a front row whose menacing bristle did not extend much beyond their No 1 haircuts. A desultory first half punctuated by attention to Simon Shaw, after he twice fell heavily from a midair position, and poor kicking into the Perpignan 22 by Mark van Gisbergen and Jeremy Staunton ended 16-9 to the home side. The try to the Perpignan lock Colin Gaston was given after television scrutiny in the third minute. A double tackle by Joe Worsley and Joe Ward was not quite enough to hold Gaston up as he made a short drive a ruck or two after the flanker Grégory le Corvec had established a maul at the tail of a line-out.

Staunton kicked a penalty from close to halfway and went tit for tat, three penalties apiece, with Perpignan's South African fly-half Steve Meyer as Courtney spotted various offences, culminating in a clumsy late tackle by Palmer on the full-back Julien Laharrague in the sixth minute of first-half added time.

Worsley was making his first appearance for a month, after a hamstring injury - he is one of several Wasps who seem to have slipped off the England radar and made no kind of impression here before being substituted early in the second half. Lewsey followed soon after. Staunton switched positions to be Wasps' third full-back of the match, Lewsey having moved there from centre when Van Gisbergen went off shortly before the interval.

The fare got no better as time went on, with the orthopaedically challenged scattered around the field and miked-up flunkies rushing on and off. In between these bouts of physiotherapy there was a lot of close-quarter action - tackles, collisions and the like - with very little art or grace. Tom Voyce made two brief runs which both came to grief with a fellow Wasp knocking on. The choice of all-blue for Perpignan's home kit, when all around the stadium the preferred colour was Catalonian blood-red and yellow, was one of many baffling aspects to the occasion.

A potentially heavy blow to Wasps came after 72 minutes, when Staunton was blatantly offside as he kicked a loose ball away, and was sent to the sin bin.

The injured Meyer's replacement, Nicolas Laharrague, potted the penalty from head on to the posts, 30 metres out, and in so doing loosened Wasps' grasp on a losing bonus point. But that possibility was re-established when Sackey came off his wing to trouble the Perpignan midfield, and a high tackle allowed King, albeit with a slightly scuffed effort, to kick a penalty from a testing angle towards the left touchline. King's calming gesture, hands motioning downwards, as the clock ticked through almost six minutes of added time suggested Wasps were happy with the outcome.

Perpignan: J Laharrague; A Snyman, D Marty, G Hume (J-P Grandclaude, 70), S Dawai Naulu; S Meyer (N Laharrague, 62), N Durand; S Chobet (S Bozzi, 69), M Konieck (G Guirado, 57), N Mas, C Gaston, N Hines (capt), G le Corvec (G Bortolaso, 80), R Alvarez Kairelis, O Tonita (V Vaki, 66).

Wasps: M van Gisbergen (A Erinle, 39); P Sackey, J Lewsey (A King, 51), F Waters, T Voyce; J Staunton, E Reddan (S Amor, 83); T Payne (P Bracken, 74), J Ward (J Barrett, 74), P Vickery, S Shaw, T Palmer, J Worsley (G Skivington, 49), L Dallaglio (capt; J Haskell, 74), T Rees.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).