Wasps 21 Bath 10: Battered and bruised Wasps earn Dallaglio one final hurrah

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The Independent Online

Some people thought it might be over for Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio at Adams Park yesterday. It's not yet. By the final whistle, the place was more like the set of MASH than the scene of a Guinness Premiership play-off semi-final – what with Danny Cipriani on his way to hospital in one ambulance, Tom Voyce waiting to depart in another, with James Haskell standing at pitch-side with an ice pack on his head and with a 14-man Wasps side fielding a makeshift front row and back line. Like the old gun-slinger he has always been, though, Dallaglio was not just still standing but standing tall.

With 14 minutes remaining, Wasps' captain and No 8 was withdrawn from the fray, to a standing ovation from the 10,000 sell-out crowd. Dallaglio will live to fight another day on the rugby field before riding off into the sunset. Wasps will be led by their 35-year-old totem when they challenge for the Premiership trophy in the grand final at Twickenham on Saturday week, 31 May. Before that, Ian McGeechan, their director of rugby, and Shaun Edwards, their head coach, have more than a little patching up to do.

Cipriani, Wasps' boy wonder cum outside-half, was taken from the field by stretcher with a severely damaged right ankle eight minutes into the second half, and Voyce, their left-wing, departed with a dislocated shoulder after setting up the game-clinching try. The season, for them, is certainly over.

For Wasps and Dallaglio, though, it remains alive. Tenth in the Premiership table at the end of the World Cup, Wasps took their mission improbable to the ultimate stage of the Twickenham play-off final with this hard-fought demolition of the would-be champions from Bath.

For the opening 40 minutes, they were forced to survive on scraps of possession but still managed to devour two scores in six-minutes just before the interval, courtesy of centres Riki Flutey and Fraser Waters. Their blitz defence wore down the much-vaunted visitors by degrees, hitting Steve Meehan's side on the "o" of offload.

The game was in the bag when lock Tom Palmer crashed over for the third Wasps try just over the hour mark, leaving Dallaglio with one last hurrah before hanging up his boots.

It is 18 years now since he first walked into Wasps' old ground at Sunbury, still almost as cherubic of cheek as he had been when he sang with the rest of the King's House School choir on Tina Turner's We Don't Need Another Hero. Considering the kind of week he had endured – his six year-old son, Enzo, having been hospitalised with facial injuries on Wednesday after being attacked by the family's dog – his contribution to his club's cause could be described as heroic.

The former England captain was in characteristically combative form in a back row in which Haskell and Tom Rees, the two flankers, produced stand-out performances. He has already led Wasps to eight wins in nine finals.

"I think it's only fitting that such a huge player will go out on such a big occasion," Edwards reflected. Dallaglio himself insisted: "It's not about me. It's about the team. We've worked phenomenally hard to get ourselves into this position. I thought our defence was magnificent."

It might conceivably been different had Olly Barkley not pushed wide two potable penalties in the opening seven minutes – or if Bath had built on the lead gifted to them in the 28th minute. Wasps were screaming for trouble when they threw the ball around in their in-goal area, although Cipriani might have got away with his risky pass had Josh Lewsey not taken his eye off the ball as Michael Claassens and Alex Crockett bore down on him, the latter dropping on the loose ball and Barkley converting.

It might have different, too, had Bath not lost Michael Lipman, their driving force of an openside flanker departing with a badly busted lip on the half hour. As it was, Wasps were level in the 32nd minute, Haskell making the hard yards before Waters, taking a feed from Flutey, cut a razor-sharp angle through the opposition defence and Cipriani adding the conversion. Six minutes later they were 14-7 up, Flutey evading Claassens and Dan Browne to touch down in the left corner and Cipriani again adding the extras.

Thereafter, Bath were limited to a long-range Barkley penalty midway through the second-half. Despite the distress caused by Cipriani's injury, Wasps kept their poise and turned the screw, Palmer claiming the final score. Now, for them and their retiring captain, one final Twickenham push remains.

Wasps: Tries Waters, Flutey; Conversions Cipriani 2, Van Gisbergen. Bath: Try Crockett; Conversion Barkley; Penalty Barkley.

Wasps: J Leswey; P Sackey, F Waters, R Flutey, T Voyce (M McMillan, 62); D Cipriani (M Van Gisbergen, 55), E Reddan; T Payne (J Worsley, 66), J Ward (J Buckland, 28), P Barnard (T French, 63), S Shaw, T Palmer, J Haskell (R Birkett, 76), T Rees (R Birkett, 65-71), L Dallaglio (capt; J Hart, 66).

Bath: J Maddock (N Abendanon, 65); A Higgins, A Crockett (S Berne, 65), O Barkley, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens; D Barnes (D Flatman, 65), P Dixon (R Hawkins, 78), M Stevens (D Bell, 73), S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, J Faamatuainu, M Lipman (P Short, 30), D Browne.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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