Wasps 19 Castres 13: Wasps warmed by return of vintage Vickery

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The Independent Online

Wasps made a stuttering start to their European campaign, sliding out of this sopping wet encounter against a gutsy Castres with a narrower victory than they would have liked.

But at least, as their captain Lawrence Dallaglio pointed out afterwards, they were the first English side to win in this opening round of Heineken Cup matches and they had four important points under their collective belt.

There was even better news in a match dominated by forward play, with Phil Vickery coming through the full 80 minutes. Not only that, but one massive hit late in the game by the self-styled Raging Bull, when he charged full tilt into the luckless Alexandre Bias, left the Castres blindside flattened and out of the match.

Vickery, though, was unscathed after the contact, although he acknowledged that it had been a tough match, and admitted he had spent some of the time at the set piece "with my head up my arse" against a competitive Castres pack that ceded precious little to their opponents.

"Laurent Seigne is a good coach and his teams are always going to be well organised," said Vickery, who was at Gloucester under the former France prop in his early days as a coach.

Everyone on the English side was prepared to admit that there were short- comings in their game, not least at the line-out and in having to cope with the conditions, too often when Wasps went forward their best intentions were reduced to a slip, stumble and sprawl.

Dallaglio said later: "At times it was harder to play with the ball in those conditions than it was without."

But play they had to, even with a line-out that could be described, at best, as dysfunctional, at worst abysmal. That could not be put down simply to the conditions. Credit should go to Castres for a good spoiling defence on the Wasps throws. Dallaglio admitted as much and added that things will have to improve if they are to come out with anything from their European encounter next weekend - away in Perpignan.

At least Wasps managed a try, a well-taken one by winger Paul Sackey shortly before the interval, that and Jeremy Staunton's solid goal-kicking kept them on top. Although much to their chagrin and disbelief Castres loosehead Akventsi Giorgadze was deemed to have grounded the ball at the end of a spell of intense pressure early in the second half.

And the French team threatened more misery when they returned to their opponents' 22 and set up a soggy camp there for some 20 unrelenting minutes. To Wasps' credit they did not flinch and by the closing stages had reasserted their clear superiority, but it was a timely lesson for the 2004 European champions with that Perpignan test looming on Saturday.

Wasps: Try Sackey; Conversion Staunton; Penalties Staunton 3, van Gisbergen. Castres: Try Giorgadze; Conversion Ross; Penalties Ross 2.

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, J Lewsey (A Erinle, 53), F Waters, T Voyce; J Staunton (A King, 56), E Reddan; T Payne, R Ibanez (J Ward, h-t), P Vickery, S Shaw, T Palmer, D Leo (J Haskell, 52), T Rees, L Dallaglio (capt).

Castres: R Teulet; L Milford, P Christophers, R Carballo, B Fleming (P Canavosio, 60); G Ross, C Laussucq; A Giorgadze, R Terrain (D Roumieu, 65), J Castex (D Saayman, 35), P Pape (K Ghezal, 69), L Nallet (capt), A Bias (F Fourcade, 80), P Tabacco, F Faure.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).