Wasps leave Tigers to curse Murphy's flaw

London Wasps 37, Leicester Tigers 30: Full-back dithers, Haughton pounces and remarkable comeback is complete
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The Independent Online

Correct though it is to wonder when it was that Wasps last conceded a four-try bonus point in the first half, or Leicester went scoreless in a second period and were so comprehensively overhauled as a result, it was also justifiable simply to smile and wallow in the relish expressed by Tony Hanks, the Wasps coach.

"I'm not thinking of any other games," said the New Zealander, when asked if he could remember such a stunning turnaround. "We need to enjoy this for the moment it is. It will do wonders for our belief in what we're trying to do."

Wasps won thanks to their fly-half, Dave Walder, kicking six penalties and two conversions and missing none, and by squeezing multiple offences and errors out of Leicester as the match wore on. The Tigers had ended the first half 30-18 ahead and with four tries to Wasps' two.

"Hands up who thought we were going to win at that point," Hanks asked the press. Every arm stayed by its side. Walder kicked superbly from every distance up to the halfway line and under instructions delivered at the interval – calmly, not angrily, according to Hanks' sidekick, Shaun Edwards – helped grind Leicester down. The reigning champions had a relative novice, Billy Twelvetrees, in the pivotal position of inside centre.

Leicester's director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, castigated his captain and full-back, Geordan Murphy, for dithering over a chip from Walder and allowing Richard Haughton to score the clinching try with five minutes left. Murphy had just spent a couple of minutes flat out after a bang on the head. "Tough," was Cockerill's implication. But he also pointed to an injury list which, even given his club's enviable resources, has hit them hard.

"Any other side in the Premiership with our injuries wouldn't be playing as well as we are," Cockerill said. His point being that these defeats in September are not as damaging as they would be in May.

Hanks can never have had this much fun in his old job, managing a supermarket. The nirvana moment came at the last knockings, when five black jerseys snuffed out Leicester's final attack by hounding the No 8 Thomas Waldrom over the touchline. This was the obdurate defence Wasps have been known for and which was grievously lacking in an astonishingly ragged first half. You wonder whether the refereeing directives have neutered Leicester's legendary ability to wrest possession in the fight on the floor.

Wasps have not won four league titles and two Heineken Cup since 2003 by conceding four tries at home in 37 minutes. Some may point to those directives, which favour the attacking side, but attitude and technique can win through and Wasps were lacking in both. From the kick-off they were slow to muster around Mark van Gisbergen in his 22 and Leicester won a penalty for not releasing which Jeremy Staunton was unable to convert.

The scoring soon started, though: Tom Varndell grabbed two tries for Wasps against his old club, after five and 31 minutes. First he caught Staunton's drop-out and pirouetted away from Scott Hamilton to sprint home on the left; then he juggled a pass from Walder before sidestepping Murphy. In between, the Tigers were busy at the other end. Staunton kicked a penalty and in the 19th minute Wasps had a line-out in their 22 and box-kicked. With Waldrom trucking it up and Alex Tuilagi fixing two defenders, Matt Smith strolled over. Another Staunton penalty was followed by a high-quality try by Leicester's England scrum-half, Ben Youngs. Under scrutiny after his displays on tour in Australia, the 21-year-old tapped a penalty at a scrum a dozen meters inside his own half and hared past Van Gisbergen to the posts.

All the above had the scores tied at 18-18 but Leicester moved clear with tries by Twelvetrees and Tom Croft. In the 35th minute Waldrom and Youngs fed Twelvetrees, who cut through with ease. Staunton kicked his first conversion and three minutes later a chip by Youngs toward the corner had Van Gisbergen and Andy Powell back-pedalling. Croft waited cannily for the Welsh No 8 to lay the ball back, stole it and slam-dunked the bonus-point try. Waldrom was also denied two tries by interventions from Riki Flutey.

Wasps began the second half with a mighty shove in the scrum and Walder picking up where he had left off, with a long-range penalty. Three more kicks sailed over for 30-30 with 10 minutes remaining, but Twelvetrees had missed once. Varndell limped off and it was his replacement, Haughton, who scored when Murphy dithered. Walder converted to seal the win.

London Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Varndell (R Haughton, 45), D Waldouck, R Flutey, D Lemi; D Walder, N Berry; T Payne, R Webber (J Ward, 54), B Broster, S Shaw, J Cannon (R Birkett, 44), J Worsley (D Ward-Smith, 13-20), A Powell (Ward-Smith, 60), T Rees (capt).

Leicester Tigers: G Murphy (capt; H Agulla, 77); S Hamilton, M Smith, B Twelvetrees, A Tuilagi; J Staunton (M Tuilagi, 40), B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 50), E Slater, G Skivington, T Croft, T Waldrom, B Woods.

Referee: W Barnes (London).