And then there was one. After last week's loss to Bath at Twickenham, an event failed only by the performance of the home team, Wasps turn their attention to the remaining competition they have a realistic shot at – the Amlin Challenge Cup.
In their way stand the Cardiff Blues. Once simply Cardiff RFC of Cliff Morgan, Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies fame, playing out of a homely Cardiff Arms Park ground stuck limpet-like to the side of the national stadium, they are now the spangly, shiny, regional Blues team with a spangly, shiny new (although somewhat less central) ground – the imaginatively monikered Cardiff City Stadium. An image makeover to make Peter Mandelson proud. Off with the moustache, on with the Saville Row suit, tally-ho Europe and a seat in the Lords. Simples.
Last season, the Blues looked like one of the coming teams in Europe. Pipped in that epic and then frankly bizarre Heineken Cup semi-final in a penalty shoot-out against Leicester, after qualifying top in the pool stages (doing the double over both Biarritz and Gloucester in the process) and squeaking past Toulouse in the quarters, they must have been highly-fancied for this season's competition. Somehow, however, it hasn't quite gone to plan. While it is never easy to escape your pool when it also includes Toulouse, they did manage to beat the French giants at home and had solid home victories over the other two teams in their group, Sale and Harlequins. Unfortunately, a narrow defeat at Edgeley Park and a failure to secure a try-scoring bonus point until their final pool game at the Stoop cost them dear, missing out on a lucky loser's place in the HEC quarter-finals by a single point. That meant a drop down to the Amlin quarter finals and a meeting with Newcastle, which they duly won 55-20, running in seven tries in the process. They are the only remaining HEC team in the Amlin Challenge Cup and, despite a middling season in the Magners League and that early exit from this year's Heineken, will provide a very stern test for Wasps this Saturday.
For Wasps, forgetting last weekend's thrashing at the hands of Bath must have been one of the chief aims this week. A defence too easily outflanked, an attack showing none of the fluency or finishing power of the previous three games - all Wasps fans will be hoping that these were mere blips, the bum note on an otherwise fantastic occasion. The Blues management team will have noted Bath's tactics and know that they have the personnel to replicate them, should Wasps' be in such a giving mood again. Up front Cardiff boast the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Paul Tito, Martyn Williams and the evergreen ex-Auckland Blue, Xavier Rush. Behind the pack Ceri Sweeny and Lion Jamie Roberts will pose big questions for Wasps' midfield defence and another New Zealander, Ben Blair, is an always reliable full-back with a highly accurate boot, should Wasps get on the wrong side of referee Roman Poite.
Selection wise, Wasps have issues on the wing, where both David Lemi and Tom Varndell were injured last week. Additionally, there might also be questions about the make-up of the second row, where Dan Ward-Smith had proved so effective until he moved back to Number Eight for the Worcester game. In the centre, it could be time to bring Jacobs back into the 13 shirt and move Waldouck inwards, although the wing situation might put the kibosh on that. Whoever is selected, however, will know that unless they up their game several notches from last week, it won't make a jot of difference. Cardiff are as dangerous as Bath, in some areas more so. Home advantage has to be made to count now that we are genuinely at home.
Familiarity certainly won't be a problem on Saturday. In European competition these two clubs have met just once, in the pool stages of the 1996/7 Heineken Cup, Cardiff coming out winners at Loftus Road by 26 points to 24. A year or two later (the games seem to have been expunged from the record, for some strange reason) the two teams met again, this time in a friendly match, Cardiff and Swansea having cocked a snook at the WRU and decided to play the English clubs for a season, considerately bringing their own referees with them. I think Cardiff probably won that one as well. And finally, the Blues and Wasps met once again in the 2006/7 Anglo-Welsh cup, this time at Cardiff Arms Park, and once again the Welsh team won, 36-20 on this occasion. Three matches in thirteen years, all honours going to Cardiff. It's not exactly what you'd call a jinx, but it's a trend Wasps will be raring to break this Saturday.
Whatever happens, this really will be Wasps' last home game of the season, and therefore our last chance to see Cips, Sackey and Skivs in the black and gold at Adams Park. All three have been involved in Wasps' successful European adventures in the past. Let's hope that against Cardiff on Saturday they're part of a winning team once again, and then we can all figure out how to get to Marseilles on a Sunday afternoon (or Kingsholm, of course).
I seem to remember the victory at home was a Friday night match and we played some of our best rugby of the season. The Anglo-Welsh match at the Arms Park 06/07 was a different story.
Once again thank you for a great preview.
The danger man for the Blues is Casey Lulala, he has created havock in the centre for the blues. Certainly overshadowed Roberts. He ran rings around Ulster home and away and destroyed Newcastle on his own. All Black need I say more One to watch!
Another sumptuous hors d'œuvre, Dobbin. Will we be inept two weeks running? Or was it just inaccuracy - last weekend's result could have been so much tighter with two rubs of the green our way. However, if, buts and maybes won't wash this Saturday. Thrice allez...
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2010:04:29:18:04:17 by dom.
Three of the men closest to Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup rugby this season share the opinion that London Wasps will have to be at their very best to beat Cardiff Blues on Saturday night.
The English and Welsh capital clubs go head-to-head at Adams Park this weekend and Sky Sports pundits Ieuan Evans, Stuart Barnes and Dewi Morris believe the Blues have exactly the kind of game to trouble of one of the continent’s most successful sides.
Double Heineken Cup winners and 2003 Challenge Cup kings Wasps fell to a disappointing 35-19 league defeat to Bath last time out and all three men have noted similarities between the way Bath and the Blues approach the game.
“Bath made Wasps chase shadows all day,” former Heineken Cup winner Evans told the Rugby Club programme.
“Their offloading made Wasps look silly. The Blues will offer a similar sort of game.
“The Blues don’t kick the ball a lot; they keep the ball in hand and why wouldn’t you when you’ve got such exciting talent with people like Casey Lualua and Jamie Roberts? They’ve got carrying and offloading ability.”
Five successive wins in all competitions have shown exactly what sort of rewards those abilities can bring when everything falls into place.
Dai Young’s Blues have scored 17 tries in their last four fixtures (all four of which have taken place away from home) , including a staggering seven in the crushing 50-point win at Newcastle in the last round of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
And there’s no doubt that they head to Wycombe as one Britain’s in-form sides.
Having been seemingly out of contention for a top-four finish in their domestic league after eight defeats in their first 13 league games, the Blues could now qualify for a Play-Off spot thanks to series of impressive recent results.
It’s been a similar story in Europe, where their adventure seemed destined to come to a premature conclusion before a comfortable win over Sale Sharks was followed by a bonus-point triumph at Harlequins that saw them sneak into the Amlin quarter finals.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their recent run of form, former England and Lions fly-half Barnes believes the attacking mindset of the Blues, especially their determination to keep the ball alive, will severely trouble Wasps.
“The old mantra in the Guinness Premiership was that ‘defences win titles’,” said Barnes.
“Well, they don’t unless you play the way the defences want. The Blues, when they’re at their best, don’t do that.
“The reason that Shaun Edwards says the Blues are favourites is (a) because he’s trying to take the heat off Wasps but (b) because there is a recognition of the fact that the Blues, at their best, play like Bath, and Bath made Wasps look silly at Twickenham.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Barnes’ former international team-mate Morris, who feels the Blues’ combination of power and pace could lead to Wasps’ downfall.
“The Blues have also got a powerful pack of forwards with the likes of Xavier Rush and Gethin Jenkins,” added Morris.
“They will have a set piece that functions and if those boys behind get the ball, watch out.”
Can anyone remember the Cardiff line up for the 96'97 HC game at LR? Also, who were the ref and his 'assistants'? My memory of that game was of a certain Mr Howley who made a blindside break that lead to a try and victory, the break enabled by a blatant trip on Wurzel which 'wasn't seen' by either the ref or his assistant. I imagine Joe hasn't forgotten that either.
This is going to be a very physical encounter and I hope we go for it from the off. Allez allez allez.
Never known Barnes to rate Wasps at anytime. Big on our rush defence being always offside in his view.
Well as they played last week. Barf have a certain American football style which involves forward passes, most of which his (Barnes) namesake ignored last week at Twickers.
That of course assists their attacking game and similar can be said of Saturday's opponents.
Turning to the Twickers game, where as said elsewhere, Wasps organised a great day out but forgot the rugby.
The turning point has to be when Danny decided to loft the ball to the right in the hope of a try when at that juncture 12-18 down, the better percentage option was take the points. 15-18 looked a lot better. The intercept try followed and game over.
Even in defeat we still managed to cockup a couple of certain tries by dropping slip catches with the line well in sight.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2010:04:30:18:38:32 by Seaxe_Man.
Mrow - the referee was Brian Stirling from Ireland and the teams were as below. I seem to recall that Jonathan Davies dropped a late goal to win the game - or maybe it was his conversion of Howler's second try. We had to rely on the trusty boot of the mighty Canadian.
Jon Ufton 15 Justin Thomas
Paul Sampson 14 Simon Hill
Nick Greenstock 13 Mike Hall
Inga Tuigamala 12 Gareth Jones
Lawrence Scrase 11 Nigel Walker
Gareth Rees 10 Jonathan Davies
Andy Gomarsall 9 Rob Howley
Mike Griffiths 1 Lyndon Mustoe
Simon Mitchell 2 Jonathan Humphreys
Will Green 3 Dai Young
Damien Cronin 4 John Wakeford
Matt Greenwood 5 Derwyn Jones
Michael White 6 Hemi Taylor (capt)
Lawrence Dallaglio (capt) 7 Jamie Ringer
Chris Sheasby 8 Emyr Lewis
Murray Fraser 16 Mark Bennett
Joe Worsley 17
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