Joe Worsley played all of yesterday's Heineken Cup tie at Loftus Road with a cricket box guarding his gentleman's business – an understandable precaution, given the accidental damage caused to the young Wasp's tenderest parts by that most venerable of all Harlequins, Jason Leonard, during a Premiership derby match the previous weekend. We may be witnessing the start of a new sporting fashion. The next time the Londoners take on Stade Français, expect the likes of Craig Dowd and Will Green to take the field with plastic protection on their noses.
Dowd, fully versed in rugby's dark arts as any granite-faced All Black prop should be, had his visage comprehensively re-arranged by the ruthless Richard Pool-Jones, who spent a fairly lenient 10 minutes in the cooler for illegal use of the elbow. When Green trundled on as a temporary replacement, he found his own nose reduced to its component parts within 30 seconds. Given that Phil Greening needed seven stitches in an eye wound and Simon Shaw spent time in the blood-bin after being punched at a ruck, it is not stretching a point to suggest that the Parisians were in full warpaint.
Aggression is one thing, brainless indiscipline another. Stade Français conceded 26 penalties and their heavies very nearly messed the whole thing up by going way over the top while leading comfortably. Certainly, the Dowd incident infuriated the Wasps pack, who found collective strength in adversity, and during Pool-Jones' absence, Wasps scored a try through Josh Lewsey and a penalty through Kenny Logan to return to the races at 14-15. "The sin-binning was inexcusable," John Connolly, their coach, admitted.
For all that, last season's runners-up were a cut above a Wasps side rendered rudderless by the absence of Lawrence Dallaglio and Alex King. Patrick Tabacco, the former Colomiers loose forward who generally spends much of his time on the Stade bench, was granted a starting place yesterday and extracted every last scrap of value from the opportunity. He managed to eclipse the brilliant David Auradou at line-out and re-start, and also made a significant contribution as a ball-carrier. Sylvain Marconnet and Pieter de Villiers hurt the Londoners at scrum time, Diego Dominguez kicked his goals – well, there's a shock – and Christophe Dominici and Thomas Lombard looked full of running out wide.
Most importantly, they had a dependable link at scrum-half. Fabien Galthie, a French Test captain of repute, has followed in Tabacco's footsteps by making the switch from a communist-controlled enclave of Toulouse to the swish arrondissements of the capital, and he may well be the making of his new club in their latest bid for the Heineken silverware. When Stade Français met Leicester in last season's final, they were betrayed by a ham-fisted performance by the Canadian Morgan Williams. Galthie does not possess the greatest pass on earth either, but he knows how to pick his way through the minefield of big-time rugby.
His understanding with Dominguez was particularly productive, as was the combination of Franck Comba and David Venditti in midfield. All played their part in steadying the ship after Wasps' brief period in the ascendant, and their sureness of touch allowed Lombard to complete the wrap-up score 17 minutes from time with a high-quality finish past Worsley, Lewsey and Paul Sampson. When the exciting under-21 cap Raphael Poulain returns to full fitness in midOctober, Connolly will have riches beyond the wildest dreams of most coaches. If only his opposite number, the increasingly put-upon Nigel Melville, could say something similar.
Wasps: Tries Lewsey, Logan; Penalties Logan 3. Stade Français: Try Lombard; Conversion Dominguez; Penalties Dominguez 6.
Wasps: J Lewsey; S Roiser (P Sampson, 61), F Waters, M Denney (capt), K Logan; M Leek, M Friday; D Molloy (W Green, 69), P Greening (T Leota, 69), C Dowd, S Shaw, I Jones (J Beardshaw, 53), M Lock, R Jenkins (C Allan, 69), J Worsley.
Stade Français: N Williams; C Dominici, F Comba, D Venditti, T Lombard; D Dominguez, F Galthie (capt); S Marconnet (P Lemoine, 68), M Blin (B August, 69), P De Villiers, D Auradou, M James, P Tabacco, R Pool-Jones, C Juillet.
Referee: I Ramage (Scotland).Reuse content