Professional rugby has borrowed certain things from football: stadiums, for instance, as Wasps have done for the last decade, and the odd catchphrase such as "a game of two halves" which was apt enough in High Wycombe on Saturday evening. There was the briefest outbreak of crowd trouble, too, which will demand investigation and cautionary punishment but need not induce hysteria that the oval ball game is suffering mass hooliganism. Wasps' young English fly-half Danny Cipriani tasted the highs and lows of life in the front line, there were six tries of every description, and so "at the end of the day" the Heineken Cup holders had a single-point win which sustained the three-way fight between them, Clermont and Munster to win this season's devilishly difficult Pool Five.
To the sidelines, first. Alan Black, the spectator who was ejected from Adams Park after leaning over a barrier to strike one or more Clermont players with a programme while members of both teams were brawling on the touchline, issued a statement yesterday through his employers, the Rugby Football Union. He apologised unreservedly to "the Game, London Wasps, Clermont Auvergne, officials, fans and players for the incident that occurred".
Many Wasps supporters and representatives of the media recognised Black immediately, for he is the epitome of a rugby stalwart who has a lifetime's association with the sport. He captained Wasps in the 1970s before coaching the side, and is now the president of Wasps FC, the amateur club who are based at the Acton ground where the professional team train. Black works at Twickenham as the RFU's manager of Leisure Rugby which comprises such worthy pursuits as beach rugby, touch and adult tag.
It is tempting to suggest a new version of tag to include a rolled-up programme, and Wasps' captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, was not exactly thunderstruck as he rounded up his three children for a post-match, pre-Christmas party. Dallaglio promised: "We'll be rallying round Blackie." Still, there are responsibilities to public order and good practice, so the incident cannot be left in-house. European Rugby Cup Ltd's disciplinary officer, Roger O'Connor, will today request an account of the events from Wasps, and his RFU counterpart, Judge Jeff Blackett, is "considering the position".
Dallaglio and his coaches were more concerned that from leading 22-3 at half-time they almost lost to a Clermont side weaker than the one which won the reverse fixture in the Massif Central, 37-27, a week earlier. There may yet be two qualifiers from this pool but Dallaglio said his side would probably need to win in January at home to Llanelli Scarlets and away to Munster.
For the second week running, each side ended up with three tries: Wasps' came through Eoin Reddan, Tom Voyce and Paul Sackey. They left out Phil Vickery prior to a citing hearing this Wednesday, and lost Josh Lewsey, after half an hour. Ireland's World Cup final referee, Alain Rolland, made questionable decisions. Jamie Cudmore, Clermont's Canadian flanker, threw several punches during the brawl early in the second half, but was shown only a yellow card. Later, Julien Malzieu batted down a pass by Wasps' Riki Flutey in the Clermont 22 but Rolland deemed it no more than a knock-on.
Privately, though, the champions may have been more hurt that Clermont's comeback was launched by breakaway scores from the big wings, Aurlien Rougerie and Vilimoni Delasau. When Delasau raced 70 metres for Clermont's second try while the French were down to 14 men the severest calamity of likely elimination loomed for Wasps. They responded with a penalty by Cipriani which was enough of a cushion at 25-17 to withstand Emmanuel Etien's try in added time converted by Alex King. The latter's return to his old club and the World Cup winning hooker John Smit having to prop for Clermont could only strive for a mention in most bar-room chats.
Wasps: Tries Reddan, Voyce, Sackey; Conversions Cipriani 2; Penalties Cipriani 2. Clermont Auvergne: Tries Rougerie, Delasau, Etien; Conversions King 3; Penalty King.
Wasps: J Lewsey (M van Gisbergen, 29); P Sackey, F Waters, R Flutey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan; T Payne, R Ibanez, N Adams (T French, 59), S Shaw, G Skivington, J Haskell (D Leo, 66), T Rees, L Dallaglio (capt).
Clermont Auvergne: S Bai; A Rougerie (capt; V Delasau, 62), G Esterhuizen, P-M Garcia (R Chanal, 66), J Malzieu; A King, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, J Smit, M Scelzo (M Ledesma, 59), A Jacquet, C Samson (P Vigoroux, 59), J Cudmore, F Alexandre (E Etien, 46), E Vermeulen.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content