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Wasps seal an historic hat-trick

14 May 2005
Wasps seal an historic hat-trick

The result ruined the former England and Lions skipper's big day out in front of a 66,000 crowd, ensuring his final fling in a Tigers shirt before retirement – and remarkable 500th first-class start – ended with an emphatic defeat.

Leicester never recovered from a scintillating Wasps opening that saw them score 13 unanswered points in eight minutes, with England stars Joe Worsley, Josh Lewsey and Simon Shaw producing towering displays.

Wasps skipper Lawrence Dallaglio was not far behind in the work-rate stakes either, as his team underlined their mastery of English rugby's play-off system to land another championship crown after once again finishing second during the regular 22-game league campaign.

Johnson, arguably the greatest English rugby player of all time, was reduced to a mere mortal on an afternoon when Tigers finished a distant second-best.

Neil Back, Johnson's erstwhile colleague for club and country, also experienced a miserable send-off, as did Leicester coach John Wells, who joins the Rugby Football Union's national academy this summer.

But Wasps supremo Warren Gatland said goodbye in style before returning home to New Zealand and a coaching job with the Waikato Chiefs.

During his memorable reign, Wasps won three Premiership titles, the Heineken Cup and Parker Pen Challenge Cup, emphasising how tough a task his successor Ian McGeechan faces next term.

After such a blistering start, Wasps never looked back, securing the title through 26 points from full-back Mark van Gisbergen, including a try, touchdowns from Tom Voyce and Rob Hoadley, plus an Alex King drop-goal.

Leicester could only manage a Scott Bemand consolation try and three Andy Goode penalties in reply, leaving 35-year-old Johnson – who returns to Twickenham on June 4 for his testimonial match – and company without silverware this season.

And the fact they thumped Wasps 45-10 in a Premiership game just two weeks ago to top the league by five points, merely deepened Leicester's feeling of emptiness.

Johnson and Dallaglio led their teams out to a rapturous reception as the Premiership's top two sides this season faced one final challenge in the quest for silverware.

Having dominated the domestic campaign – and landed every English league title between them since Newcastle were crowned champions in 1998 – Leicester and Wasps faced their fifth encounter this season following two Premiership and two Heineken Cup battles.

Tigers won three of those encounters, including a European double, and the other game ended as a 17-17 draw, which underlined Wasps' colossal task.

But they made a dream start that had Johnson glowering at his colleagues in disbelief.

Wasps took a second-minute lead from Van Gisbergen's 45-metre penalty, then Voyce capitalised on an opportunity created by Dallaglio.

Dallaglio's crunching tackle on Tigers centre Ollie Smith forced possession loose, and Voyce reacted quickest, sprinting 50 metres unopposed for a try that Van Gisbergen converted.

Leading 10-0 inside five minutes, it got even better for Wasps just three minutes when King dropped a neat left-footed goal, inflicting an astonishing 13-point deficit on Leicester before Johnson and company could even move out of first gear.

Goode opened their account with a penalty, yet Leicester's frustration was never far from the surface and Back could count himself fortunate to escape a yellow or red card after he punched Worsley off the ball.

Worsley was left on the ground, literally spitting blood, and, although Wasps were awarded a penalty, they should have had a one-man advantage, but Back escaped censure.

Van Gisbergen and Goode then missed penalty chances, but Leicester suffered another blow midway through the first period when scrum-half Harry Ellis was forced off injured to be replaced by Bemand.

It was impossible not to sense that Leicester fans desperately wanted their team to stop and then start the game again, such was Wasps' control, and with tempers frayed on both sides, referee Chris White had his hands full.

Goode's cultured right boot gave Tigers a glimmer of territorial presence, yet Wasps proved up to the task in defence, especially Lewsey, who produced a try-saving tackle on his fellow Lion Geordan Murphy.

Worsley, magnificent at the heart of Wasps' defensive wall, was punished for his only error of the half – tackling a Leicester player without the ball.

Goode slotted the resulting penalty but Van Gisbergen resumed normal service with two further penalties before half-time – his second, off the crossbar from 50 metres – as Wasps regained their early 13-point advantage to post a 19-6 interval lead.

Tigers coach Wells reacted to the situation by making a notable double substitution, sending on Lions Graham Rowntree and Lewis Moody for the second period as Leicester looked for inspiration.

Johnson though, let his team-mates down by high-tackling fellow England World Cup winner Matt Dawson and Van Gisbergen landed a fourth successful penalty, increasing Leicester's degree of difficulty.

Goode completed his hat-trick on 51 minutes, but ultimately, the only hat-trick of any significance was Wasps' glorious title treble.

And the champagne corks finally popped when Van Gisbergen sprinted over for try number two, which he also converted, before calmly slotting his fifth penalty and then adding the extras to substitute Hoadley's 79th-minute touchdown.

The scorers:

For Leicester Tigers:Try: BemandPens: Goode 3

For London Wasps:Tries: Voyce, Van Gisbergen, Hoadley Cons: Van Gisbergen 3Pens: Van Gisbergen 5 Drop: King

For more news, try out Leicester Tigers v Wasps

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