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Wasps and Tigers battle to entertaining draw

10 Sep 2005
Wasps and Tigers battle to entertaining draw

The teams met five times last term with Leicester taking the series 3-1 – one match was drawn – but crucially Wasps succeeded in the title decider at Twickenham and were crowned English champions.

And from the evidence at Causeway Stadium the competition between the Premiership’s two dominant forces over the last seven years shows no sign of losing any of its ferocity.

While it was no classic the game was finely-poised throughout with the 23-23 interval score setting the tone for a similarly tense second half which was ultimately wrecked by heavy rain.

As with the final score, the try-count finished level with flanker Tom Rees crossing twice for the home side and Tom Varndell and Harry Ellis touching down for Pat Howard’s men.

Both sides risked incurring the Rugby Football Union’s wrath by fielding England players involved in the Lions tour to New Zealand with Wasps’ Simon Shaw and Martin Corry of Leicester playing more than the allotted 40 minutes.

The RFU will decide their response to the clubs’ defiance upon receipt of a report due in on September 21 and should they decide to take action, today’s opponents at Causeway Stadium will face sanctions.

But while the controversy has marred the opening of the Premiership, Leicester and Wasps were doing their best to restore the league’s reputation on the pitch.

There were glimpses of brilliance in the first half with Rees’ first try the result of some eye-catching approach work but the match was ultimately decided by the kickers – especially as the heavens opened in the final 30 minutes.

Wasps’ flawless Mark van Gisbergen – the New Zealand-born full-back who qualifies for England on residency grounds tomorrow – just edged Leicester’s Andy Goode who missed only one shot at goal in acrobatic fashion.

It was Goode who drew first blood, however, with a penalty but Wasps replied in the fifth minute with a well worked try created by some deft handling in the backs.

Stuart Abbott, Fraser Waters, van Gisbergen and Tom Voyce were involved in the initial build-up which swept Wasps within 20 yards of Leicester’s line.

The ball was recycled quickly and fed to Alex King whose short pass sent marauding blindside flanker Tom Rees over the whitewash with van Gisbergen adding the extras.

King’s decision-making was instrumental in the score but the Wasps’ fly-half was culpable for Leicester’s ninth minute reply as his sloppy pass was intercepted by Tom Varndell who dashed home under the posts.

Goode slotted the conversion and then landed a penalty to rub salt into the wound, giving the Tigers a 13-7 lead which was pegged back when van Gisbergen completed a long-range three points.

Leicester still had the initiative but they let it slide by conceding two penalties in quick succession, the second of which van Gisbergen sent between the uprights.

Goode replied in kind but the Tigers’ poor discipline continued to prove costly with openside Shane Jennings sent to the sin bin in the 28th minute for killing the ball.

Van Gisbergen’s boot punished the error and Wasps quickly took advantage of their numerical advantage by winning a crucial turnover ball after Murphy – playing his first match since the Lions’ tour – had run into a posse of home defenders.

Scrum-half Eoin Reddan came up with possession before feeding Rees, who romped through for the second time and inevitably the score was improved by van Gisbergen.

Leicester replied with a try out of nothing when a shambolic line-out was seized upon by scrum-half Harry Ellis who fly-hacked a loose ball forward and won the race to the line. Goode converted.

Goode and van Gisbergen exchanged penalties early in the second half before the Tigers let a good opportunity slip through their fingertips.

A dreadful blunder from Paul Sackey presented the visitors with a series of five metre scrums that ended when Corry opted to pick and go – only to spill the ball forward as the rain began to pour down.

Van Gisbergen kicked Wasps into the lead with 14 minutes left on the clock but Leicester looked set to snatch the lead before Goode, with the line five metres away, slipped in the increasingly treacherous conditions.

The rain had turned the ball into a bar of soap, making open play a lottery, but Wasps had a late chance to snatch victory only for Joe Worsley to spill forward as he broke from the back of a scrum in the dying moments.

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