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Wasps clinch Premiership glory

31 May 2008
Wasps clinch Premiership glory

Lawrence Dallaglio enjoyed a dream Twickenham send-off as Wasps sent him into retirement with another major trophy.

Wasps captain and England World Cup winner Dallaglio bowed out after his team once again proved themselves masters of the play-off system.

The newly-crowned Guinness Premiership champions made it four league titles in six seasons, ending arch-rivals Leicester’s hopes of successfully defending the crown they won a year ago.

But Wasps were made to fight every inch of the way in front of an 81,600 world record club crowd after Tigers tries by wing Tom Varndell and scrum-half Harry Ellis during a six-minute spell threatened to wipe out a 17-point interval deficit.

Wasps had stormed clear through touchdowns by flanker Tom Rees and wing Josh Lewsey, while full-back Mark Van Gisbergen weighed in with five successful kicks.

Van Gisbergen finished with 16 points – in stark contrast to goalkicking opponent Andy Goode, who slotted just two from six attempts.

There seemed no way back for a spirited Leicester side, having edged into the play-offs and then edged out Gloucester by a point during a gripping semi-final.

But they remained in the fight, despite Goode’s inaccuracy and even after Dallaglio made his exit – to a prolonged standing ovation – 12 minutes from time.

Wasps though, an alarming 10th in the Premiership just before Christmas, completed a prolonged run to the finishing line by having just enough gas left in the tank.

But there was an unedifying sight of uncontested scrums for the final 20 minutes after both first-choice Wasps props went off, begging the question onceagain of when will rugby’s rulers sort it out?

Riki Flutey took fly-half duties for Wasps from ankle injury victim Danny Cipriani, who is unlikely to play again this year after suffering a fracture dislocation during the semi-final victory over Bath two weeks ago.

There was a also a farewell for Treviso-bound Wasps centre Fraser Waters, who was partnered in midfield by Dominic Waldouck. Between them, Waters and Dallaglio had made more than 550 Wasps appearances.

Leicester were unchanged from the side that toppled semi-final opponents Gloucester 26-25 at Kingsholm two weeks ago, but Wasps quickly gave them something to think about.

Van Gisbergen and Goode exchanged early penalties – then Wasps struck from their first meaningful attack.

Fit-again England World Cup captain Phil Vickery proved a prominent ball-carrier after scrum-half Eoin Reddan’s midfield break, and Leicester were at sixes and sevens in defence.

Wasps had no intention of letting such an opportunity slip, and Rees dived over for a try that Van Gisbergen converted from the touchline.

Leicester found themselves facing worrying early pressure, and their defensive work took its toll as full-back Geordan Murphy and centre Aaron Mauger both required treatment.

The Tigers briefly roared through wing Alesana Tuilagi’s power, but Wasps finished the opening half with a 10-point blitz in six minutes.

Van Gisbergen completed his penalty hat-trick after Leicester’s England lock Ben Kay was fortunate to escape a yellow card, then Wasps struck a killer blow.

Dallaglio’s presence of mind deep inside his own half ignited a promising counter-attack that lock Simon Shaw and the irrepressible Rees bought into, causing Leicester to chase at a rate of knots.

Ultimately though it was a missed tackle by Tigers flanker Ben Herring that allowed Lewsey to sprint clear and touch down, with Van Gisbergen’s fifth successful kick giving Wasps an imposing 23-6 interval advantage.

Vickery, unsurprisingly given his lack of match fitness, made way for Pat Barnard at the break, while injured Tigers centre Dan Hipkiss was replaced by ex-Wasps player Ayoola Erinle.

Leicester threw everything at Wasps from the restart, and scrum-half Ellis was agonisingly denied a try when his chip and chase was tapped behind his dead-ball line by a retreating Paul Sackey.

Territorially, Tigers remained in the contest, but their lack of firepower was exposed until Goode unlocked Wasps’ defence after 56 minutes.

Goode’s clever cross-kick caused uncertainty in the Wasps defence, and after Van Gisbergen and Lewsey failed to clear, Varndell pounced for an opportunist score.

Although Varndell’s touchdown only reduced the gap to 23-11, it served as a wake-up call for Wasps, who had shown signs of complacency.

And when the game went to uncontested scrums, Leicester immediately prospered after Ellis scampered off the back to cross unopposed.

Goode missed the conversion, but Leicester were back in the final at only seven points adrift, setting up a nerve-tingling closing 15 minutes.

Van Gisbergen then hoisted Wasps 26-16 clear, and when Goode missed a straightforward penalty nine minutes from time, Wasps knew they were home and hosed.

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