WASPS are again on the inside looking out after beating Stade Francais 20-6 in the second leg of their Champions Cup play-off in Paris this afternoon.
Backing up their 30-29 win in Wycombe to seal a 50-35 aggregate triumph, Wasps will now join Europe’s big carnivores round the table to sample and savour the new feast of club rugby served up next season, while Stade, whose reputation as nearly men continues, must again take their place among the lesser group of teams holding trays at the back of the room.
But while the Frenchmen certainly contributed to their own downfall, this was all about Wasps and although from the outside it seems like an against-the-odds victory against a squad straining at the seams with world stars, the black and golds were actually more comfortable winners than the 15-point margin suggests.
They had three tries chalked off alongside the five they scored, they led their illustrious opponents at the end of all four quarters of the play-off and if most of the rattle and hum came in Wycombe last Sunday, their performance at the Stade Jean Bouin today met even more of the demands of European rugby with a level of maturity and composure not seen from a Wasps team for seasons.
While Stade lost their heads - losing three players to the sin bin, throwing wild passes straight into touch and fumbling the ball at almost every opportunity – Wasps were a model of discipline, organisation and control and that sustained level of accuracy throughout the match will have pleased Dai Young more than all the fireworks they set off at Adams Park.
The devilment was still in them in Paris though, with Wasps scoring the first try of the match after just seven minutes.
By the time James Haskell shipped it wide to send Tom Varndell skating over they had already gained the upper hand, winning a penalty in the scrum, stealing a line out and nearly crossing in the corner through Andrea Masi.
Andy Goode converted from the touchline and although he missed the chance to make it 10-0 off the tee in the 13th minute, the foundations for victory had been well and truly laid. Stade, with eight changes to last week and a host of returning heroes in their side, were hoping for a fast start to blow Wasps away and get the home crowd rocking.
But instead it was Wasps who stood up first and for 20 minutes they didn’t put a foot wrong, making tackles, making yards and hardly letting Stade escape their own half.
The crowd were duly muted and not even a penalty from Jules Plisson could change the mood inside the stadium as Wasps, minute by minute and play by play, drew out their sting.
And if anything the black and golds should have inflicted further damage after 28 minutes when Joe Simpson gathered Varndell’s intercept and flew home from 50m. Goode’s conversion from in front of the posts would have made it 14-3 and the fickle French fans might have lost all semblance of patience with their team, but referee Nigel Owens went to the fourth official and despite calling play on during the game he decided Guy Thompson’ tackle early in the move had been high.
Doubling the frustration for Wasps, Plisson knocked over the resulting penalty and if Stade were looking for a spark that ten-point swing over a matter of inches was it. But it was soon suffocated by the enveloping yellow blanket.
Plisson and Goode traded penalties to make it 10-6 at the interval and not even 15 minutes of regrouping time helped the home team regain their je ne sais quoi.
They did begin the second period with a bit of a spring in their step, but at no stage did Wasps look under pressure and Stade shoulders were sagging again when Antoine Burban was yellow carded after 53 minutes for another indiscretion.
Wasps turned the screw by kicking for the corner, and although they didn’t get over that time they did break through the French resistance again after 56 minutes through Varndell.
Again though the TMO went against Wasps – a knock on in the air the verdict this time – but by then Stade were lifeless and Wasps put the nail in their coffin when Guy Thompson celebrated his new contract by going over after pick and goes from Haskell and Ashley Johnson.
Goode converted to ease his team into a 17-6 lead on the day and 47-36 overall, and Wasps’ name had been written into the blank left for the 20th and last team in next season’s inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup the moment Goode made it 20-6 off the tee with six minutes left.