Wednesday 16 October 2019

Round-Up: Wasps could be the sting in Blues' Euro tale

Christian Wade of Wasps scores the opening try during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Harlequins and Wasps
Christian Wade of Wasps scores the opening try during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Harlequins and Wasps
Joe Simpson of Wasps breaks clear to score the second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Harlequins and Wasps

RUGBY ROUND-UP

Wasps took a giant step towards the European Champions Cup quarter-finals as they stunned Harlequins 23-3 at The Stoop to set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Leinster at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in the final round of Pool Two next weekend.

Early tries from Christian Wade and Joe Simpson set the platform for the triumph, while Andy Goode kicked 10 points along with Elliot Daly's long-range penalty effort. Quins could only muster a solitary Ben Botica penalty in reply.

Conor O'Shea made two changes to his starting side which dismantled Leicester 32-12 last weekend, with Will Collier coming in for Kyle Sinckler at tighthead and Tom Williams replacing Ugo Monye on the wing.

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young brought Tom Varndell, Daly, Edd Shervington and Ashley Johnson into his starting line-up after his side's 39-26 loss to Bath at the Recreation Ground last Saturday.

Quins were playing with plenty of early enterprise, but two massive errors from Danny Care and Mike Brown handed Wasps the initiative.

First, Care failed to find George Lowe with an ambitious long pass, allowing Wade to collect the loose ball and race away 75 metres downfield to touch down. Goode tagged on the extras as the visitors stormed into a 10-0 advantage.

Quins were left reeling, but worse was to come as Brown kicked the ball out on the full, handing Wasps a prime attacking lineout. After strong carries from Leuia and James Haskell, Simpson spotted a gap on the edge of the ruck to snipe though and race under the posts to further increase his team's lead. Goode converted once again to cap off a dream opening quarter for the visitors.

The hosts dominated possession and territory for the rest of the half, with Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes being despatched to the sin-bin for persistent infringing in the 29th minute.

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The home team needed a good start to the second half, but Goode's long-range penalty made the comeback mission all the more difficult. After turning down a number of kickable penalties in the first half, Botica finally got Quins on the scoreboard with a belated three-pointer in the 45th minute.

Daly then landed a monster 50-metre penalty to make it 23-3. Trailing by 20 points, Quins monopolised possession but could not find a way through the stubborn Wasps defence marshalled superbly by skipper Haskell and fellow back-rower Hughes.

In Pool One Clermont Auvergne, a side who have made two semi-finals and a final in the past three seasons, left a chilly Salford last night looking anything but the team who are going to upset Saracens' fortunes in the Massif Central next Sunday.

Instead they had to settle for a snatched 22-13 win in a game that often appeared merely the backdrop for a couple of players - Danny Cipriani, once of England, and Morgan Parra of France - seeking to rejuvenate stalled Test careers and the French outhalf probably came out of it best if only because he spent most of the evening on the front foot.

But the game remained strangely lifeless for 50 minutes before Sale were awarded a penalty try and Jamie Cudmore, the Clermont lock, joined his team-mate Wesley Fofana in the sin-bin. From three points down at the interval Sale had edged four points ahead before a flurry of penalties, three for Camille Lopez - currently the France No 10 of choice - and a second for Cipriani, put Clermont two points clear with 10 minutes to go and the long-promised snow finally arriving.

Six minutes later Clermont finally got up the head of steam that had been missing for 76 minutes, No8 Fritz Lee crashing over and Lopez completing a perfect kicking performance worth 17 points.

With Saracens having thrashed Munster 33-10 three hours before the kick-off here, next week's game becomes winner takes all with a quarter final at stake.

But not for Sale. They lost interest time ago, despite giving both Munster and Saracens a scare at the AJ Bell Stadium and in some respects it was surprising that Steve Diamond put out such a strong side in a lost cause.

Instead of resting his stars, Diamond pressed Nathan Hines, Johnny Leota, Sam Tuitupou, Chris Cusiter, Dan Braid and, of course, Cipriani, into service, hoping to build on last Saturday's victory over the Premiership leaders, Northampton.

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