The recent Gallagher Premiership fortunes of Wasps are an example of how things in rugby can hugely change in a short space of time. For an age, rookie head coach Lee Blackett was making things look easy, guiding his team to last October’s league final.
However, results haven’t been as kind in 2021 and they came into this Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 tie with Clermont on the back of seven defeats in their last nine league matches. Having the squad reduced to skin and bone due to player unavailability, their reputation as the league’s most penalty-ridden side had been massive contributory factor in their recent angst.
But with their injury situation starting to clear and referees aplenty visiting their training ground in recent weeks to help them brush up their act, Wasps arrived into the Easter weekend looking to positively turn the page.
A club with a proud European heritage, being twice winners of the tournament, this encounter with Clermont was their 100th match at the Ricoh since their 2014 move from Adams Park. However, there were ultimately no celebrations as Wasps were incredibly ambushed in added time, Kotaro Matsushima’s 84th minute try converted by Camille Lopez for the 27-25 result.
Three-try Wasps only had themselves to blame, their discipline letting them down when it most mattered yet again. The overall penalty count went 15-11 against them, the closing stages playing a pivotal part in that. Less than three minutes remained when they lost a lineout in the Clermont 22 and they then gave up a series of penalties and a yellow card in a car crash finish that saw them relinquish a home quarter-final against Munster or Toulouse. Here are the Wasps player ratings:
Heartbreak for Wasps as Clermont win it with the clock three minutes into the red!
Kotaro Matsushima with the cold-blooded finish, Camille Lopez nails the extras ??
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 3, 2021
15. MATTEO MINOZZI – 6
It has been a troubled spring for the full-back, making himself unavailable for Italy and then losing his place in the Wasps XV. He returned last week and showed rustiness here, butchering a ninth-minute try with his sloppy grounding after going solo from halfway with a neat run and sweet bouncing kick. It was reminiscent of the score left behind by Willie le Roux in a quarter-final at Leinster a few years ago.
14. PAOLO ODOGWU – 7
A familiar face who had become a stranger in 2021. Uncapped by England during the Six Nations, it left him without any rugby for eleven weeks until he stepped off the Wasps bench last weekend. Took just five minutes here to remind everyone of his wheels, racing in unchecked from distance to score. Missed a tackle in the lead-up to the first Clermont try and was within a whisker of holding up their second over the line. A toe in touch then denied him his own second score. Less of an influence in the second half, he gave way on 72 minutes to Zach Kibirige who went on to be yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on.
13. MALAKAI FEKITOA – 6
The no-nonsense tackler revealed a softer side to himself at his club’s midweek media conference, explaining that he likes to get stuck into 500 and 1,000 piece jigsaws to occupy himself away from rugby. Started here in a mean mood, setting the tone by winning the first breakdown penalty. Continued to bring muscle to the contest but wasn’t a standout.
12. MICHAEL LE BOURGEOIS – 7
Made the break off first phase lineout ball on halfway to usher Odogwu in for his fifth-minute score. Threw the intercept, though, on the Clermont 22 that gave the visitors possession to counter for Sebastien Bezy’s twelfth-minute try. Also gave away a needless penalty when lying over Josh Bassett metres short of the line on 28 minutes. Pulled off a try-saving intercept on 64 but was replaced on 76 by Jimmy Gopperth who conceded the crucial penalty that gave Clermont the easy out from their own 22.
11. JOSH BASSETT – 7
The victim of an unsavoury eye incident at Newcastle 15 days ago, he had a quiet start here but then announced himself with a thunderous bang, stepping in for an exquisite 24th-minute try. Won a breakdown penalty twelve minutes later that then nearly had Odogwu in for his second score. It was his chase of a restart kick that also won the penalty pivotal that led to Wasps’ third try.
10. JACOB UMAGA – 6
A first-ever Champions Cup start for the 22-year-old and nerves were evident. Looked to use the boot tactically early on but came unstuck with a poor restart kick that was run back in for Clermont’s second try, a score where he missed the tackle as Peni Ravai dashed for the line. It didn’t overly ruffle him. He finished the opening half four from four off the tee. Missed another tackle on Ravai early in the second and a missed touchline conversion ultimately proved costly.
9. DAN ROBSON – 7
Like Odogwu, he missed recent club months due to an England call-up. Produced an array of varied passing. A forward pass to Tommy Taylor scrubbed out one try but was on point a minute later to give Bassett an assist. Important vocally in keeping the potent Wasps maul going forward.
1. BEN HARRIS – 7
Played the entire match. Gave up a first-half penalty for not rolling away and there was a no release infringement early in the second. Demonstrated a great engine, though. Came up with the turnover off a five-metre Clermont lineout that went loose and then scored on 55 minutes with a precise pick and go.
With 190 penalties conceded in this season's Premiership, the worst count in the league, pressure is mounting at Wasps after seven losses in their last nine games #WASvASM #HeinekenChampionsCuphttps://t.co/7yD0sTWzg3
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 3, 2021
2. TOMMY TAYLOR – 8
Had the lineout singing. A forward pass scrubbed out a try on 23 minutes after he looped around following a throw to take an inside pop from Robson. The pass was perfect, though, in the other direction a minute later, Taylor finding Robson who gave the assist to Barrett. The Sale signing for next season continued to be excellent off the back of the maul and with Wasps losing a crucial lineout on 77 minutes, the question must be asked why he was subbed on 63 rather than kept in situ for the entire match as happened with the two starting props.
3. KIERAN BROOKES – 7
Early concern as attacking five-metre scrum went backwards in opening minutes and a try chance was lost. A sloppy pass also ruined an attack on 32, but he came into it much better after that. His scrum penalty win allowed Wasps to go 20-14 ahead at the break and he looked to have clinched it for his team with another scrum penalty late on after set-piece restarts chewed up much of the closing ten minutes of normal time.
4. JOE LAUNCHBURY – 8
Another of the injury club who had returned to the fold in recent weeks. He was a rock throughout save for offside at a maul that gave Clermont their shot for 20-17. He produced a massive tackle on 67 minutes that stopped an attack for a try and left the visitors taking a shot for 25-20 after someone else had infringed.
5. WILL ROWLANDS – 7
Entering the final few months of his time with the club before his move to Dragons, he started with the lineout catch that ignited the first try and another take set in the train their second score. Continued to mostly have positive involvements but gave up a breakdown penalty on 62 minutes.
6. JAMES GASKELL – 8
The one change to the starting pack this weekend after the league loss at home to Sale, he finished as his team’s highest tackler with 19. Boundless energy.
7. THOMAS YOUNG – 7
The poacher picked some good moments to be a nuisance. Came up with the loose ball that resulted in a penalty for 17-14 just before the break and it was his intervention that that forced the infringement that put Wasps in at the corner for the throw for their third try. Conceded a side entry penalty on 65 minutes, though, just before he exited to be replaced by Tom Willis.
8. BRAD SHIELDS – 7
Switched to No8 from blindside due to young Alfie Barbeary getting ruled out with injury, he charged down Lopez to force an early five-metre scrum. Fuelled the fire in the Wasps pack but was also penalised too often. The two most frustrating penalties were where he found himself isolated on the ground after carrying.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 3, 2021
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