Holders Wasps survived a late scare yesterday before opening up a four-point lead in Pool One of the Heineken Cup with a hard-fought 31-22 victory away to Calvisano.
The Italian side started strongly with a Gerard Fraser penalty in the sixth minute, but it did not take long for their resistance to be broken. Wasps' young wing Michael Roberts, back-row forward Mark Lock and England lock Simon Shaw, in his comeback game following a neck injury, all duly ran in tries to put them firmly in charge.
Roberts, a former England Under-16 cap who was 22 earlier this month, then completed a hat-trick with touchdowns each side of the interval to give Wasps a bonus point, which may prove crucial when the group approaches its conclusion.
Calvisano responded early in the second half with a try by Giovanni Raineri, converted by Fraser, who scored himself in the 53rd minute. After Wasps' replacement lock George Skivington was yellow-carded in the 70th minute, the home side narrowed the margin further with a try from full-back Paolo Vaccari.
Wasps' coach, Warren Gatland, said: "We gave our youngsters a good run-out today and they played well. It was good Heineken Cup experience for them, but our second half was disappointing as Calvisano outscored us three tries to one."
The Newcastle fly-half Dave Walder, orchestrator of an impressive away win over Newport-Gwent Dragons last weekend, faces an even tougher challenge against French league leaders Perpignan at Kingston Park in Pool Five this afternoon.
Walder, who has replaced the injured Jonny Wilkinson, will line up against the Australian fly-half Manny Edmonds, who was last week named as France's player of the season for his efforts in helping Perpignan reach the domestic championship final..
Newcastle, who have linked up with England's defensive coach, Phil Larder, have brought in Marius Hurter at tighthead, Matt Thompson at hooker, Craig Hamilton for the suspended Luke Gross at lock, and scrum-half Hall Charlton, newly promoted to the England squad.
In today's other Pool Five fixture, the Dragons are unchanged away to Edinburgh, who have named Mike Blair at scrum-half with fellow Scotland cap Hugo Southwell at full-back. In Pool Four, Neath-Swansea Ospreys, beaten last weekend by Castres, entertain Munster, who have Donncha O'Callaghan at lock and Shaun Payne at centre.
Connacht overturned a 14-point first-leg deficit against Narbonne to reach the second round of the European Challenge Cup. Last season's semi-finalists, who went down 25-11 in France last weekend, came through 40-21 in Galway.Fly-half Paul Warwick was the home-town hero, scoring two tries and kicking 22 points in a superb individual display.
London Irish have made five changes as they attempt to build on a two-point advantage in the second leg against French side Auch at the Madejski Stadium today. Scott Staniforth is fit again after a groin strain while Nick Kennedy, Mark Mapletoft, Doug Wheatley and Paul Gustard have all been selected.
Sale, who take a nine-point lead into today's second leg against Catania at Edgeley Park, welcome back England prop Trevor Woodman and Jos Baxendell from knee injuries. But director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre has once again named a weakened side.
Rotherham, whose defeat by Coventry last weekend has been reversed on appeal, head National League One by three points after seeing off Pertemps Bees 30-12.
Andre Markgraaff has been elected as deputy to SA Rugby president, Brian van Rooyen, seven years after resigning as national coach in disgrace.
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