Pichot pounces to sting weary Wasps

You might call it a bad 72 hours at the office. Wasps, beaten in the most deflating circumstances by Northampton in a knife-edge Heineken Cup quarter-final three days previously, saw their chances of qualifying for the same tournament next season receive an unexpected battering from Bristol at Loftus Road last night. The visitors outscored them by three tries to one to reinforce their own drive towards a top five Premiership finish and, having soaked up any amount of injury-time pressure, will now fancy themselves to finish the job.

It did not require an oval-ball Nostradamus to predict that the Londoners might be a notch down following their painful European experience at Franklin's Gardens.

Joe Worsley started brightly enough, but even that plutonium-enriched bundle of energy quickly disappeared into the mistake-ridden morass around him. Martyn Wood's passing was imprecise, Phil Greening and Lawrence Dallaglio suffered outbreaks of Teflonitis - absolutely nothing stuck - and Kenny Logan's defensive work was less than devastating.

Bristol, by comparison, could hardly have been hungrier. Humiliated by their opponents in the Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final at Reading - at one point in that match, Wasps led the West Countrymen by 44 clear points - they arrived in Shepherd's Bush with their hackles up and did everything in their power to impose themselves physically. Given the pugilistic presence of Dean Ryan and Garath Archer, not to mention the fiery little bantamweight known as Agustin Pichot, that power was considerable.

For a while, it looked as though Ryan and company might be overdoing it on the fistic front; Robin Goodliffe, the referee, played an entire concerto on his penny whistle before the first quarter was done and dusted. However, Wasps were not exactly paragons of virtue either and they allowed Henry Honiball to match Alex King, penalty for penalty. By the half-hour mark, the visitors' ball-carrying forwards had established a clear superiority.

Pichot was the first beneficiary. The Argentinian scrum-half darted forward as King shaped up an oblique inside pass close to a ruck and, having made the interception, sprinted 50 metres for the opening try. Seven minutes later, it was Fraser Waters' turn to commit a seven-point fumble as he conceded possession to another Test Puma, Eduardo Simone. The centre did not have to cover quite as much ground as his countryman, but the isolation in which he found himself was every bit as splendid.

There was more about Wasps after the break, especially when Paul Volley and the spherical Samoan, Trevor Leota, were introduced up front. King cut the arrears with a couple of penalties and then barged over from close range after his forwards, aided and abetted by the powerful Rob Henderson, worked up a real head of steam in the left corner. But Gareth Baber, a half-time replacement for Pichot, replied in kind five minutes later to wrap it up.

Wasps: Try King; Conversion Logan; Penalties King 6. Bristol: Tries Pichot, Simone, Baber; Conversions Honiball 2; Penalties Honiball 4.

Wasps: J Ufton; J Lewsey (S Roiser, 66), F Waters, M Denney (R Henderson, 58), K Logan; A King, M Wood; A Le Chevalier, P Greening (T Leota, 54), D Molloy, A Reed, S Shaw, L Dallaglio (capt), J Worsley, P Scrivener (P Volley, 54).

Bristol: L Best; D Dewdney, E Simone, J Mayer (M Back, 66), D Rees; H Honiball, A Pichot (G Baber, h-t); P Johnstone (L Gerrard, 66), B Williams, P Lemoine, G Archer, A Sheridan, M Salter, A Vander (C Short, 66), D Ryan (capt).

Referee: R Goodliffe (Yorkshire).


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