There was more than a suspicion at the start of the season that the revamped Powergen Cup would do things strictly by halves - that it would be half-baked, half-hearted and, as a result, only half a tournament. In keeping with the theory, yesterday's final at Twickenham had precious little to recommend it. But whatever the game lacked, there was no shortage of physicality. Johnny O'Connor, the Wasps open-side flanker, and Simon Easterby, the Llanelli Scarlets blind-side, will confirm as much the moment they wake up.
Both loose forwards were knocked cold in the first half, O'Connor after running into a wide expanse that turned out to be Alix Popham's unusually broad chest and Easterby after mistiming a tackle on Mark van Gisbergen, the Wasps full-back. There were considerable levels of concern around both players; indeed, the incident involving Easterby was so grisly that the quick-thinking Mark Jones, the Scarlets wing, raced to the aid of his captain, turning the unconscious victim on his side and removing his gumshield. As a result of prolonged on-field treatment, the first half lasted the best part of 57 minutes.
Alan Lewis, the international referee from Ireland, might have been forgiven for thinking the interval would never arrive. It did, eventually, but there would be no second half for the insurance broker from Cork. No sooner had Lewis been heard to say something to the effect that "it's like Emergency Ward 10 out here", than his left leg went lame and he limped towards the tunnel, not to be seen again. Simon McDowell, his countryman, took over.
Happily, McDowell had a fairly comfortable ride, for Wasps slipped a stiletto into the Scarlets' ribcage in the first few minutes of the second period and won the game there and then. Stuart Abbott, bound for Harlequins next season, was creator and provider, side-stepping his way through a frazzled defence with a characteristic flourish and feeding the free-scoring Tom Voyce for a straightforward finish. Van Gisbergen converted to put Wasps 17-10 ahead - hardly the most decisive of advantages in the usual run of things, but more than enough in the context of a one-way half of rugby.
Voyce had scored Wasps' opening try, too, and given his predatory mood he is set fair for a starting place when England take on Australia in Sydney in June. The Scarlets were 10-3 up when Mike Hercus, their American stand-off, intercepted a loose pass close to his own line and scuttled off towards enemy territory. His lack of pace was laughably exposed, however, and after the back-tracking Wasps snuffed out whatever danger remained following this peculiar exercise in slow-motion attacking, Jeremy Staunton cottoned on to an interception of his own and presented his wing with the simplest of jog-in scores.
Wasps started poorly. They possessed the pick of two relatively powder-puff tight-forward units and outscrummaged the Scarlets from the outset, but nevertheless struggled to douse the Welsh fires, initially stoked by the impressive Popham and kept burning by Regan King and Barry Davies in the back line. The fleet-footed Davies opened the scoring, slipping into a gap after assertive approach work from Clive Stuart-Smith, Gavin Thomas and Matthew Rees and skinning Van Gisbergen with a classically proportioned outside break.
At this point, the Scarlets looked better organised and more tightly focused. Lawrence Dallaglio was too quiet by half in a back row unbalanced by O'Connor's departure, and there was next to nothing to write home about in respect of Josh Lewsey or the error-prone Van Gisbergen. But Wasps' " blitz" defence had its usual effect of making the opposition think twice about spinning the ball wide - Abbott's high-velocity hit on Matthew Watkins symbolised this most impressive aspect of the Londoners' game - and while the Scarlets would not fall behind until the 49th minute, their confidence had been well and truly undermined.
By the mid-point of the second half, all the important deeds had been done. Softened up at the set-piece, the Scarlets found themselves even worse off when the grand old veteran of their front row, John Davies, made his way to the touch-line in discomfort. The pressure gave the likes of Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley all the excuse they needed to show some ball-carrying potency in open field, and while a late downpour slowed the proceedings to a standstill and placed too great a premium on handling skills that had been beyond most of the participants in the dry, it affected the Scarlets far more than the English club.
Sure enough, Van Gisbergen hit the spot with a penalty nine minutes from the scheduled end to give his side the elbow-room they craved, Alex King rubbed Welsh noses in the dirt with a drop goal a minute into stoppage time and Van Gisbergen then stepped up for the coup de grace - another successful penalty, which turned out to be the last kick of a forgettable contest.
Wasps will be in the Heineken Cup next season as a result of this victory, but they would have made it anyway via the Premiership. In a sense, that says all that needs saying about this Powergen Cup. It had its moments, but far too few to make it worth the fuss and bother.
Wasps: Tries Voyce 2; Conversions Van Gisbergen 2; Penalties Van Gisbergen 3; Drop goal Van Gisbergen. Llanelli Scarlets: Try B Davies; Conversion Hercus; Penalty Hercus.
Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, J Lewsey, S Abbott, T Voyce; J Staunton (A King, 49), E Reddan (M Dawson, 49); A McKenzie (P Bracken, 49), R Ibañez (J Ward, 61), T Payne, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley (J Haskell, 80), J O'Connor (D Leo, 7; Bracken 40-41), L Dallaglio (capt).
Llanelli Scarlets: B Davies; M Jones, M Watkins, R King, D James; M Hercus, C Stuart-Smith; P John, M Rees, J Davies (M Madden, 67), I Afeaki, A Jones (V Cooper, 70), S Easterby (capt; D Jones, 40), G Thomas, A Popham.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland) replaced by S McDowell (Ireland).Reuse content