Wasps make a mockery of Gloucester's season of toil

Gloucester 3 Wasps 39: Dallaglio's men turn on the style at Twickenham to rob rusty Zurich Premiership winners of final glory
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The Independent Online

"Everyone seems to think it's our fault," complained Lawrence Dallaglio, as he headed out of Twickenham for a big night on the town. If the great man was a little touchy, it was with good reason. Having spent the previous six days being lambasted by the Bath section of the West Country rugby community for deliberately putting his head in the way of Danny Grewcock's right fist during the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final, he was now copping another load, from the direction of the Cotswolds. How dare he and his swanky Londoners deny the true champions of England their crowning glory? Despicable. Utterly despicable.

If the good folk of Gloucester ever forgive Wasps for pinching the title, their title, on the last day of the season, it will not be terribly soon. "That Dallaglio's got a nerve," muttered one Kingsholmite as he paid for his petrol at Reading services. "Bloody smart-arse. Just wait until we get him up our way. We'll show him where he can stick his Premiership." And so another domestic campaign reaches its conclusion, bathed in sweetness and light.

We are faced with another two seasons of this deeply unsatisfactory Premiership grand final nonsense, whereby a side can play far better than anyone else for 22 games, yet lose everything by performing like duffers for 80 minutes.

"The disappointing thing is that there appeared to be a major effort by the competition administrators not to recognise our achievement in winning the league by 15 clear points," said Nigel Melville, the Gloucester coach. "It was a special achievement, and I don't like special things being ignored or taken away. Fair play to Wasps, they were superb. But we worked our balls off from September to mid-May to get where we did. I don't think that should be forgotten."

It is stating the obvious to say that Wasps are blameless in all this; they pressed all the right buttons in the second half of the season and, having earned themselves a shot at the pot, obliterated Gloucester with a display faultless in both conception and execution.

It was a tactical triumph for Warren Gatland, their coach, who backed a hunch that Gloucester were most vulnerable in the very area they considered themselves strong and ordered his forwards to take them on at their own ultra-physical game. It was also a triumph for the spine of Gatland's team, from Dallaglio and Trevor Leota up front, through Rob Howley and Alex King at the fulcrum, to Mark van Gisbergen at full-back. To a man, they were sensational.

But if this had been a horse race, the stewards would now be conducting a thorough inquiry. It was not merely a case of Gloucester playing poorly, but a case of them not playing at all. They just about fronted up in the scrummage, but their line-out was pathetic, their rucking non-existent, their passing laughable and their handling downright scandalous. Someone counted 30 knock-ons from the would-be champions. Genuine champions would not commit 30 such sins in an entire season. Asked if his side were as helpless as they appeared, Phil Vickery, the captain, replied: "Yes, that's about the size of it." At least he was honest.

There is only one conceivable explanation for the one-sidedness of a final that attracted a very decent 44,000 crowd, but imploded as a spectacle well before the interval. Gloucester had not played for three weeks - by the end of the afternoon, that had become three weeks and 80 minutes - while Wasps were match-hard following seriously meaningful outings against Northampton and Bath. The playing field was about as level as the north face of the Eiger. If the people at the top end of Premier Rugby really are so desperate for sponsors' money that the competitive integrity of their own league means nothing to them, they should at least come up with a fixture list that is fair to both finalists.

"The three-week lay-off? Make of it what you will," said Melville, understandably anxious to avoid public excuses for his team's horribly public failure, but clearly exasperated by the iniquity of it all.

"We had our fears about the length of the break, but there was no way of knowing precisely how we would be affected until we took the field. As it turned out, we looked as though we didn't care, which is ridiculous, because nobody cares more than us."

He received a degree of support from Gatland on this subject. "One week off would have been ideal, but three weeks was too long," the former All Black hooker acknowledged.

Melville was not exaggerating when he asserted that his team "started badly, did nothing much in the middle and finished poorly". If anything, he was being generous. His team were behind to a sucker-punch try after 67 seconds - Henry Paul and Terry Fanolua, who were so far out of midfield alignment that they would have been dropped from any self-respecting Under-11 team, allowed the dangerous Stuart Abbott to free Josh Lewsey on a home run to the posts - then proceeded to make every mistake known to the sport before inventing a few of their own.

At one point, Adam Eustace and Andy Hazell bunged out suicidal passes inside the Gloucester 22 in the space of three seconds. These two, renowned for their destructive qualities, used to be known as "Dustpan and Brush". Suddenly, they were Reeves and Mortimer.

At this point, Gloucester were 16-3 down, following two penalties and a drop goal from an entirely authoritative King. It would soon be worse. Lewsey scored again at the end of the half after a couple of darts from his stand-off and some muscle from Craig Dowd, and when poor Andy Gomarsall, embittered by frustration, laid into King under the nose of the referee, the sin-bin came into play.

By the time Gomarsall returned, his victim had rubbed it in with another nine points. Joe Worsley's try near the end, the direct product of howlers from Olivier Azam and Peter Buxton, was a fitting monument to Gloucester's inadequacy.

In a way, it would have been better had Ludovic Mercier not kicked the third-minute penalty that gave his side their desultory presence on the scoreboard. What better way to mark a pointless occasion than by remaining pointless? Sadly, the Gloucester of 31 May - unrecognisable from the Gloucester of the previous nine months - could not even get that right.

* Trevor Woodman, the international loose-head prop who missed the final because of an ankle injury, is struggling to make England's three-match trip to New Zealand and Australia. David Flatman, who played his last game for Saracens on Saturday, will be a clear favourite to replace Woodman if he is ruled out today.

Gloucester 3
Pen: Mercier

Wasps 39
Tries: Lewsey 2, Worsley
Cons: King 3. Pens: King 4
Drops: King 2

Ht: 3-23 Att: 44,000

Gloucester: T Delport; M Garvey (C Stuart-Smith 76), T Fanolua (R Todd 62), H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; L Mercier (S Amor 68), A Gomarsall; R Roncero, O Azam, P Vickery (capt), A Eustace, M Cornwell (R Fidler H-T), J Boer, A Hazell, J Paramore (P Buxton 53).

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen (A Erinle 76); J Lewsey, F Waters, S Abbott (M Denney 68), K Logan; A King, R Howley (M Wood 76); C Dowd (A McKenzie 74), T Leota (P Greening 62), W Green, S Shaw (P Scrivener 73), R Birkett, J Worsley, P Volley (M Lock 72), L Dallaglio (capt).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).