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Wasps nail down the Premiership

29 May 2004
Wasps nail down the Premiership

The victory also hands Wasps a notable 'double' after their victory in the Heineken Cup last weekend, and their names will be writ large when the historians come to tel the story of this season, surely the greatest in the annuals of English rugby.

True, this game won't win many beauty pageants, but for sheer graft and pure desire – the two elements that have been omnipresent throughout the whole Zurich Premiership season – there are few games that come close.

The thought of tackling the newly crowned European champions would have perturbed most teams – not Bath. The West Countrymen – who lead the Premiership table from October through to the finish-line – took on the task with relish, and dictated the early phases of play.

The much-heralded Wasps forward unit stalled on its starting block, and hooker Trevor Leota could not find his line-out jumpers for love or money.

Bath fly-half Chris Malone duly took advantage of the wayward Wasps display and slotted an early penalty.

Malone missed the chance to take Bath six points clear in the 15th minute when his penalty attempted sailed wide, and it looked like Wasps scrum-half Rob Howley had slip his side into gear when he intercepted a Mike Tindall pass to slide in under the posts.

The black and yellow banks of supporters – enjoying their second visit to 'HQ' in just six days – burst into cheer, but referee Chris White was playing advantage to Bath after a Wasps knock-on, and the break-away try was disallowed.

With Wasps still struggling to secure possession, Bath enjoyed long spell with the ball – but the Londoners' famous defensive lines held strong, and Bath could do nothing but continue to beat on the closed door.

Despite their dominance, Bath slunk into the break nursing a meagre 3-0 lead, and Wasps fly-half Alex King cancelled out that small advantage following the re-start with a snap drop-goal.

But with Wasps' line-out rapidly turning into a lottery, Malone got the chance to reply to his opposite number's impromptu score by putting away a drop-goal of his own.

Wasps coach Warren Gatland finally decide enough was enough, and pulled the skew-whiff Leota out of the game in the 53rd minute.

The arrival of replacement Ben Gotting instigated a drastic improvement in Wasps' fortunes and they began to bully Bath.

Wasps hauled themselves onto the front-foot so much so that flanker Paul Volley was able to get into Malone's face and force him to make an errant pass.

Wasps wing Tom Voyce pounced on the loose ball and feed Abbott who appeared at his shoulder, and the England centre took off for the corner where he dotted down for his try – his second at Twickenham in a week.

Wasps fullback Mark van Gisbergen found the centre of the posts from the touchline to add the extra two points in the 64th minute – points that proved to be the last of the game.

Malone tried a drop-goal, as did England star Mike Catt – who entered the fray to win his last cap for Bath – but no flags were raised.

The stalemate continued into extra-time, when Bath were awarded a difficult yet kickable penalty.

A quick time calculation lead to a decision to go for a corner line-out, but Wasps managed to resist Bath's attempts to battle over.

Bath were awarded a second bite at the cherry in the 89th minute of play when they were awarded another kickable penalty. There was no consultation with the ref's timepiece this time – the ball went straight into touch just five metres from the Wasps line.

Another good Bath catch and another good Bath drive followed, but still Wasps held their position.

With Wasps refusing to budge, Bath began to lose hope – and with only a metre between them and victory in 2003/04 Zurich Premiership championship, referee White spotted a Bath knock-on. Up went the defenders' arms, down went the attackers' heads – it was all over.

Man of the match: Bath lock Danny Grewcock had a wonderful game in the tight, but it was Wasps stalwart Paul Volley who goes home with the smile on his face. The flanker – who now departs to take up a contract with Castres in France – had a massive swansong for the Londoners, and it was his claustrophobia-enducing offensive defence that ultimately lead to Abbott's crucial try.

Moment of the match: With Bath looking totally in control in the first half, that man Rob Howley popped up to snaffle an interception. Sure, it didn't lead to much – but it put the wind up the Bath backs who never seemed to get their passing back together again.

Villain of the match: No one will be happier that Wasps secured the win than their hooker Trevor Leota who did his best to hand the silverware over to Bath. We hate to hand this gruesome gong out to such a wonderful man and player, but he had the mother of all off-days at the line-out – Wasps lost eight of their own throw in the first half alone. If you ever come across the big Samoan in a pub, challenge him to a game of darts – there's big money to be won!

The scorers:

For Bath:Pens: MaloneDrop: Malone

For London Wasps:Tries: AbbottCon: Van GisbergenDrop: King

The teams:

Bath: 15 Matt Perry, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Robbie Fleck, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Alex Crockett, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Martyn Wood, 8 Zak Feaunati, 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Duncan Bell, 2 Jonathan Humphreys (captain), 1 David Barnes.Replacements: 16 Hentie Martens, 17 Lee Mears, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Olly Barkley, 20 Mike Catt or Spencer Davey, 21 James Scaysbrook, 22 Rob Fidler.

London Wasps: 15 Mark van Gisbergen, 14 Josh Lewsey, 13 Fraser Waters, 12 Stuart Abbott, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Alex King, 9 Rob Howley, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio (captain), 7 Paul Volley, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Richard Birkett, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Will Green, 2 Trevor Leota, 1 Tim Payne.Replacements: 16 Henry Nwume, 17 Mark Lock, 18 Ben Gotting, 19 Martin Purdy, 20 Peter Richards, 21 Mark Denney, 22 Ayoola Erinle.

Referee: Chris White

For more news, try out Bath Rugby v Wasps

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