Wasps wilt in face of a Biarritz blitz

Biarritz 18 - Wasps 15
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The Independent Online

Biarritz for the cup? Maybe, but it's never wise to put all your eggs in one Basque. The pride of south-west France did an impressive job on Wasps here with a thoroughly convincing victory by a goal, a try, a penalty and a drop goal to a goal, a try and a penalty.

Biarritz for the cup? Maybe, but it's never wise to put all your eggs in one Basque. The pride of south-west France did an impressive job on Wasps here with a thoroughly convincing victory by a goal, a try, a penalty and a drop goal to a goal, a try and a penalty.

There was also more bad news for England, in the shape of a serious injury to Stuart Abbott. The centre, one of the national side's dwindling stock of specialists in the position, broke his right leg in a 23rd-minute incident involving Biarritz's Serge Betsen. Wasps were studying videos last night to see if there was a case for citing the flanker and Abbott will be out for 10 weeks, missing the entire Six Nations' Championship.

What a fickle lot Biarritz are. Extraordinarily unambitious on their visit to Wasps before Christmas, they then did the cup-holders (now the ex-cup-holders) a huge favour by defeating Leicester at Welford Road last week. Yesterday, having handed Wasps a lifeline, they proceeded to throttle them with it, their formidable pack extracting whatever sting their opponents had left, and the crowd celebrated as if they had already taken possession of the Heineken Cup.

Still, it is some gauntlet they have thrown down after defeating two of England's European thoroughbreds in a week. Wasps thought they had an edge in fitness and which would tell in the second half but the reverse was the case. They needed not only a win but four tries for a bonus point and they failed on both counts.

They had the better of the first half, at the end of which they were held to 8-8, but their anticipated onslaught never materialised. Instead the Biarritz forwards took a stranglehold and even when their pack was reduced to seven men it did not prevent them from dissecting the Wasps at both the set-pieces and broken play.

If Wasps were going to go they were determined not to go quietly, and they made a promising start when in the eighth minute Abbott delivered a perfect pass to his co-centre Ayoola Erinle, who brushed aside Thibault Lacroix's tackle in a surge to the line. Erinle made it look easy but as the game progressed it became anything but.

Damien Traille had already kicked Biarritz into the lead with a drop goal in the third minute and two minutes after Erinle's try the Basques responded with one of their own, a trademark score from Imanol Harinordoquy following a brutal rolling maul.

Biarritz were having to do a huge amount of tackling, and Wasps were unfortunate not to regain the lead after 31 minutes. Mark van Gisbergen made a delightful break after Matt Dawson had run a penalty and when the full-back looked inside he found the England scrum-half with what appeared to be a try-scoring pass. However, as Dawson made it to the line he was somehow held up by Jimmy Marlu and Traille and the referee Alain Rolland, who had been knocked over during the move, disallowed the score after receiving the verdict from the video official.

Although Van Gisbergen kicked a penalty to level the scores, thereafter Wasps threw away any chance they had, sometimes literally. "Instead of throwing it around and looking for tries, maybe we should have concentrated on getting the win,'' said their captain, Lawrence Dallaglio.

It all started to go wrong when Alex King, attempting to kick a penalty to touch, punted the ball so low that Biarritz were able to block it and clear their lines. Although Josh Lewsey pulled off a try-saving tackle on Lacroix, Wasps could exert no influence on the game. Van Gisbergen knocked on a simple catch, Dawson delivered a forward pass as his side were trying to build momentum and then King put a kick straight into touch. It was the stand-off's last act as he was replaced by James Brooks in the 50th minute and at the same time they lost their hooker Trevor Leota, who was not at his best.

Becoming increasingly disconcerted, Wasps suffered a huge blow nine minutes into the second half when the centre Federico Martin Arramburu found the amazing Betsen in support. Betsen, the arch destroyer, turned creator as he in turn slipped an inside pass to Marlu and the wing crossed near the post for Yachvili to convert.

Trailing 15-8 Wasps were still not out of it, especially after Harinordoquy was shown a yellow card in the 53rd minute after a set-to with Dallaglio, who felt the Frenchman's elbow in his face.

But Biarritz made light of their handicap and took control up front, and the concession of a late try to Tim Payne was of no consequence.

Biarritz: B Dambielle; P Bidabé, F Martin Arramburu (J-B Gobelet, 80), T Lacroix, J Marlu; D Traille, D Yachvili; D Avril (B Lecouls, 74), B August (J-M Gonzalez, 69), P Balan (K Lealamanua, 65), O Olibeau (D Couzinet, 78), J Thion, S Betsen, T Lièvremont (capt), I Harinordoquy.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Voyce, J Lewsey, A Erinle, S Abbott (R Hoadley, 23); A King (J Brooks, 50), M Dawson (H Biljon, 78); C Dowd (T Payne, 40), T Leota (B Gotting, 50), W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).