Wasps power to second final

Wasps 57 Northampton 20
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The Independent Online

To the victor the toils - which for Wasps means contesting perhaps the two most demanding finals in European rugby within six mercilessly tough days of each other. First they have the unenviable honour of fronting up to Toulouse at Twickenham in the Heineken Cup finale on Sunday and then on the same piece of beaten turf the following Saturday face Bath in the Zurich Premiership showpiece.

To the victor the toils - which for Wasps means contesting perhaps the two most demanding finals in European rugby within six mercilessly tough days of each other. First they have the unenviable honour of fronting up to Toulouse at Twickenham in the Heineken Cup finale on Sunday and then on the same piece of beaten turf the following Saturday face Bath in the Zurich Premiership showpiece.

This waltz at the Causeway Stadium confirmed that double assignment as Wasps put two straight losses behind them to end Wayne Smith's reign at Saints in a manner he cannot wait to forget as he heads home to assist Graham Henry's All Blacks. Nick Beal signed off as well, but at least the Northampton stalwart had a farewell try to remember. For the rest of his colleagues there was plenty to forget from a semi-final that proved a game too far for them and many of the home fans who stayed away from a disappointing attendance that barely topped 6,000. Northampton supplied at least half of those.

The visitors began the stronger as they took an early lead through two Bruce Reihana penalties but this, in truth, was before Wasps, and for that matter the game, really got into full swing. Indeed, there was more of the pre-season than the end-of-season feel to proceedings until Tom Voyce stepped up, and stepped inside, to change the whole tone of the afternoon.

On the half-hour mark the young wing was going nowhere when given the ball in a packed midfield. But Voyce found an angle that Isosceles would have been proud of and rounded Reihana on the outside before going over in Ben Cohen's last-ditch tackle to impress the video referee. This spurred Wasps into an hour of front-foot action that might have scared the pantlets off any French or West Country observers in attendance.

"I could tell from the atmosphere in the dressing room all week that we were going to play some good stuff today and we did that," said the winning captain, Lawrence Dallaglio. "We have now given ourselves a great opportunity. It's all about winning trophies and last year we won two. This year we've put ourselves in the frame to win two again, which would be an even bigger achievement. Saying that, Toulouse and Bath do happen to be two of the biggest names in world rugby and I don't need to tell anyone how tough it's going to be." Warren Gatland, the Wasps coach, concurred with a knowing nod. "We'll start looking at Toulouse tomorrow," he said.

For now there was enough to feast his eyes on as Wasps took Voyce's lead to run clear of the Saints by half-time. A double one-two involving Simon Shaw and Dallaglio gave the Wasps captain the first of his brace of tries and then, in the last movement of the half, the replacement back Ayoola Erinle latched on to Shaw's pass to go over, after the giant lock had perfected what looked suspiciously like a side-step to split the Saints defence.

The second-half saw more of the same - a lot more - as Wasps pressed on towards HQ and Abbott's interception try from his own 22 in the 51st minute effectively killed the game as a contest. Northampton hit back with an Andrew Blowers score, after the blindside crashed over from Shane Drahm's flick pass, but all this did was stir Wasps further.

Paul Volley finished off Josh Lewsey's break to make it 34-13 with a full quarter remaining during which Voyce and Dallaglio bagged their second tries and the prop Tim Payne claimed a touchdown. Beal's try with four minutes left was barely consolation as Wasps had by now taken Alex King off as a precaution and played the last five minutes with 14 men. The final indignity in a semi-final full of them for Northampton.

Wasps: Tries Voyce 2, Dallaglio 2, Erinle, Abbott, Volley, Payne; Conversions Van Gisbergen 7; Penalty King. Northampton: Tries Blowers, Beal; Conversions Drahm 2; Penalties Reihana 2.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, F Waters (A Erinle, 37), S Abbott (M Denney, 66), T Voyce; A King, R Howley (P Richards, 63); T Payne, T Leota (B Gotting, 69), W Green (H Nwume, 69), S Shaw (M Lock, 69), R Birkett (M Purdy, 61), J Worsley, P Volley, L Dallaglio (capt).

Northampton: B Reihana (J Leslie, 65); J Clarke (S Drahm, 57), B Cohen, M Tucker, N Beal; S Drahm, M Robinson (J Howard, 64); T Smith, S Thompson (capt) (D Richmond, 73), T Taumoepeau (R Morris, 51), M Lord, M Connors (J Phillips, 66), A Blowers, D Fox, G Seely (M Soden, 73).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham)

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