Wasps sparkle under the Adams Park lights

Bucks Free Press: Dai Young Dai Young

WASPS are two matches away from their first trophy in six years after blowing Gloucester away in a raucous evening at Adams Park tonight.

Their loudest crowd of the season saw them hustle and harass their opponents from pillar to post in a 36-24 Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final victory that has been three years in the making.

In each of the last two seasons they have fallen to the eventual winners at this stage of the competition, but it's third time lucky for Dai Young's men and they can now look forward to a home semi-final against Bath on Sunday, 27 April at 1pm.

Bath demolished Wasps in Wycombe in the Premiership earlier this season, but the black and golds have got a second wind in the last few weeks and are now playing as well as they have all year.

The pace and purpose has returned to their play after a month of flatlining, and even without their prolific wingers they again look like a team with genuine menace.

Three tries came against Saracens and three more followed tonight, and with their pack flexing their muscles too they will believe glory in Europe is within reach.

Young kept faith in the Andrea Masi/Elliot Daly positional switch, but Wasps' wingers changed for the third week running with James Short and Will Helu starting out wide, while England forwards Joe Launchbury and Matt Mullan returned to the pack.

Hooker Carlo Fetuccia was also recalled to a starting XV that, on paper, looked to pack a punch.

And they certainly delivered in the early stages with Short particularly landing a few bone-jarring hits on England wing Jonny May.

That was indicative of the entire team though, and their intense start nearly paid off after six minutes when Gloucester lost the ball in contact 40m from their line.

A posse of Wasps players hacked on Wasps were only denied the opening try by Joe Simpson's fumble as he tried to gather one-handed at full tilt.

But with their big ball carriers busting over the gain line time and again to give their team real momentum, the first points weren't long in coming and Andy Goode scored them with a booming drop goal after 13 minutes.

He should have made it 6-0 off the tee when his pack pushed Gloucester off their own scrum with 19 minutes played, but massive hits from James Haskell and Nathan Hughes kept the pressure on and when Gloucester finally got some field position from a Goode charge down Wasps' loose forwards won the breakdown to send the visitors chasing back into their own half.

More points had to come, and with half an hour gone they finally got the breakthrough their play merited when Goode kicked a penalty to the corner and let his pack do the the rest.

Mullan is the man who went over after a series of thrusts that took play across the width of the pitch, and Goode's conversion made it 10-0.

Gloucester's Rob Cook hit back with a penalty soon after, but Goode restored the 10-point buffer and after 40 minutes of bristling, breakneck rugby, the black and golds took that lead down the tunnel with them.

And the interval didn't disrupt their rhythm either.

Right from the restart they were at Gloucester's throats and Masi had already been held up over the line by the time the burrowing Festuccia was awarded Wasps' second try by the TMO after 44 minutes.

Goode's conversion made it 20-3 and one more score would surely have broken the Cherry and Whites' resistance.

The fly half himself delivered it with a 51st minute penalty, and at 23-3 with less than half an hour left the hosts had a clear run to the line.

European quarter-finals are rarely that routine though, and when the colossal Nathan Hughes was sin-binned Gloucester sensed their chance.

First May went over in the corner to raise away hopes, and the momentum had definitely swung when Gareth Evans repeated the trick just six minutes later.

Cook converted both from out wide and in the blink of an eye Wasps' lead had shrunk from 23-3 to 23-17.

At that stage it was anyone's game, and home fans were fearing the worst.

But just when his team needed it most Goode, the man who has seen it all before, settled the nerves with another arrow-straight penalty.

It was the scoreboard equivalent of a firm hand-off and the sight of Hughes returning moments later further cheered the home crowd.

Goode then took his personal tally to 19 points with another successful kick and Wasps put the seal on a vibrant victory with try number tree after 76 minutes.

Daly made it with a blistering break down the left wing that took him outside the Gloucester line, and although he didn't get a favourable bounce from his chip over Cook, it mattered not at all as Helu swept in to finish the job.

Goode completed his best kicking display in a Wasps jersey with the conversion, and not even Martyn Thomas' late try could dampen the high spirits inside Adams Park at the final whistle.

These two sides cross swords again in The Stinger at Twickenham in a fortnight, on this evidence it should be an occasion to savour.

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