April 11 2016
A thrilling fightback and a nerveless last-minute conversion by Jimmy Gopperth took Wasps through to the semi-finals of the Champions Cup in the most dramatic fashion.
Thirteen points down with 22 minutes to play, their European campaign seemed set to come to an end, but two magnificent tries took them to 24-23. Man of the match Charles Piutau's last minute try left Gopperth with the ultimate pressure kick from near the right touchline. He made no mistake and the roar which greeted the raising of the flags could probably be heard for miles around.
After Gopperth kicked off, the opening passage of play lasted well over two minutes before Exeter Chiefs knocked on just outside their 22, after Charles Piutau had sent a chip down the left.
With the game being played at a frenetic pace, Wasps showed early ambition but lost the ball in contact in promising positions. With nearly six minutes played, a powerful Wasps scrummage won them a penalty in midfield eight metres inside the Exeter half. Jimmy Gopperth went for the posts and his well-struck kick gave Wasps the lead.
Exeter’s first attack began with an angled run by Gareth Steenson, followed by several phases before Jack Nowell found his way into the 22, only for Exeter to be penalised a few metres short of the line.
Wasps then put together a lengthy period of possession, following a lineout on the Exeter 22 after Nathan Hughes broke away from the ensuing maul. A series of thrusts by the forwards, with Hughes and Joe Launchbury both prominent, took play out wide to the left before coming back infield, where Wasps were penalised just short of the line.
Another lineout near the Exeter 22, this time on the left, paved the way for Siale Piutau to slice through the Exeter defence but any possible pass was blocked. Wasps recycled quickly and the ball was chipped towards the line but Jimmy Gopperth was unable to gather just short of the line. From the resultant scrum, Exeter tried to move the ball infield but were penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown near their 22. From just to the right of the posts, Jimmy Gopperth was on target to make the score 6-0 after 18 minutes.
Wasps’ next attack came when Joe Launchbury stole an Exeter lineout a few metres outside their 22. When play came back across the field, his strong carry made a few metres before the ball was fed to Siale Piutau. He rode one tackle, but his pass out to Christian Wade flew into touch. Wasps were then forced into a replacement as Kearnan Myall had to be helped from the field and his place was taken by Bradley Davies.
On 25 minutes, Wasps were penalised at a scrum a few metres inside their own half. Gareth Steenson’s penalty found touch just inside the Wasps 22. Thomas Waldron put in a powerful charge from the back of the line out and the Exeter forwards drove towards the line but the defence held firm and Wasps won the put-in to the scrum in the shadow of the posts. They won possession and Siale Piutau made enough ground for Dan Robson to clear up towards the ten-metre line. When Exeter threatened again, they lost possession deep inside the Wasps 22 and a breakaway down the right took play back over halfway, before another breakdown penalty went the way of the visitors.
Exeter’s first dangerous driving lineout inside the Wasps 22 won them a penalty, near the right corner after they’d made 15 metres. They went for the corner and a five-metre drive ended with the familiar sight of Thomas Waldrom beneath a pile of bodies to claim his side’s opening score. Steenson’s conversion from near the right touchline put his side 7-6 ahead with seven minutes of the half to play.
A minute later, Exeter infringed at the breakdown a few metres inside their own half in midfield. From almost the same position from where Gopperth had landed his first penalty, his kick appeared to be on target, but it came back off the right-hand post. Almost immediately, Wasps were dealt another blow when Thomas Waldrom intercepted Bradley Davies’s pass outside their 22 and outstripped the defence to go over by the posts. The try was awarded after the TMO ruled that his momentum had carried him over the line and he had grounded the ball despite the attempts of two Wasps' defenders to hold him up.
Steenson converted to stretch the lead to 14-6, which was how it stood at half time after 40 minutes in which Wasps had failed to make the most of their opportunities, while Exeter had taken theirs.
With a heavy shower coming down at the start of the second half, a powerful Nathan Hughes charge took play up towards the Exeter 22. The ball was cleared but Wasps came straight back as Siale Piutau found a hole in the middle of the defence. He fed Dan Robson, whose superbly directed diagonal kick bounced perfectly for Charles Piutau to go over near the left corner with an incredible finish to ground the ball. Jimmy Gopperth missed the conversion but Wasps were now right back in the game at 14-11.
Exeter responded within six minutes, following Ollie Woodburn’s dangerous run down the left. The attack was stopped a few metres out, but play came back infield and a buildup of pressure by the forwards ended with replacement prop Harry Williams going over between the posts. The score was again confirmed by the TMO as there had been some doubt over whether Williams had retained possession of the ball as he went for the line. Steenson’s conversion gave Exeter a 21-11 lead and Henry Slade then missed a long-range penalty.
A fourth Exeter try was ruled out for a forward pass and a penalty at the resultant scrum allowed Wasps to relieve the pressure. Exeter were soon back on the attack and another build-up by the forwards won them a penalty in front of the posts. Steenson’s penalty took his side to a 24-11 lead, with 22 minutes left to play.
With Exeter again building the pressure and threatening a try which would surely clinch the game, Wasps produced a spectacular counter-attack when Elliot Daly gathered the ball behind his own line and beat a tackle to break away down the left. The ball was moved out to the right, where Christian Wade made ground before Exeter managed to clear. Wasps counterattacked again and play came out to the left for Frank Halai to go over for a thrilling try, which Gopperth converted to narrow the gap to 24-18 with fourteen minutes still left on the clock.
Wasps then put together another thrilling passage of play, which took them close to a score in the right corner before they came back out to the left, where a series of drives appeared to be setting them up for a try before the ball squirted out of the side of the breakdown four metres from the line and Exeter were able to lift the siege. Ashley Johnson then burst through the defence. He had George Smith in support, deep inside the 22, but his pass was intercepted.
Wasps were now throwing everything at Exeter and pressure from a lineout near the left corner won them a penalty with two minutes left. The forwards hammered away at the line before the all was eventually released to the backs and Charles Piutau went over in the right corner for his second try of the afternoon. With the clock at zero, Jimmy Gopperth lined up the biggest kick of his Wasps' career. It sailed over, to seal the most dramatic of victories and take Wasps to the last four of the Champions Cup.