Wednesday 16 August 2017

Ice-cool Gopperth sets up semi-final derby with Sarries

'Gopperth landed a nerveless match-winning conversion from five yards in from the right touchline with the final kick' Photo: Getty
'Gopperth landed a nerveless match-winning conversion from five yards in from the right touchline with the final kick' Photo: Getty
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Dai Young hailed Wasps' dramatic late European Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Exeter as "great theatre" after former Leinster out-half Jimmy Gopperth held his nerve amid unbearable tension.

Gopperth landed a nerveless match-winning conversion from five yards in from the right touchline with the final kick of an epic Ricoh Arena clash as Wasps edged through 25-24 and secured a last-four place in top-flight European competition for the first time since 2007.

Wasps trailed by 13 points midway through the second period but were not to be denied, with full-back Charles Piutau scoring two tries, including the last-minute effort that Gopperth converted, and wing Frank Halai also touching down.

"When they got two scores in front, most people probably felt the game was going to go away from us," said director of rugby Young. "We didn't panic at half-time. We felt if we just kept on playing and kept knocking the door, at some stage it would open for us.

"It would have been a lot better for the nerves if it wasn't 79 minutes - it would have been nicer if we started opening the doors at 29 minutes.

"It was great theatre at the end for the supporters. Fair play to Jimmy. It wasn't an easy kick. I don't think many people in the stadium were watching it with both eyes open, that's for sure."

Exeter coach Rob Baxter said: "I am really proud in how we turned up. We showed some really good qualities, we made a good Wasps team have to play very well to beat us, and I think that's what games of rugby should be about. It was two good sides going hammer and tongs. One had to win, and it wasn't us today."

In the semi-final, Wasps will take on Saracens, who came from behind to beat fierce rivals Northampton 29-20 at Allianz Park. The English champions had romped through the group stage with six wins, claiming a try-scoring bonus point in all but one of them, but they failed to turn up for the majority of a match they were expected to win at a canter.

It took a 69th-minute try from Ashton to push a team parading six of England's Grand Slam winners clear, the wing switching on the afterburners and picking a clever line to cross in the corner.

Ashton's try lifted his tally since completing a 10-week ban for making contact with the eye area of Ulster's Luke Marshall to three in two games.

On the other wing, Chris Wyles plundered a late opportunist try to assure victory, while Owen Farrell finished with a 19-point haul after a flawless kicking display. Injury-hit Northampton got a late consolation try, but will be rue two straightforward missed penalties early on from Stephen Myler, and Jamie Elliott's blunder in dropping the ball over the line.

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