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LONDON WASPS 27 TOULOUSE 20 (HT 13-11)
London Wasps are the Heineken Cup winners of 2004 after winning an incredible battle against the reigning European champions Toulouse at a packed Twickenham.
With just minutes to go, Toulouse had clawed their way back to 20-20 and the game seemed destined to go into extra-time. But just as the clock was counting down the final moments, and everyone was preparing for 20 more minutes of thrilling action, Rob Howley stole the show.
The veteran Wales and Lions scrum-half showed he has lost none of his rugby nous as he returned a loose drop out 22 by the Frenchmen with a cunning grubber kick up the left touchline.
As the ball hugged the touchline, so Toulouse full back Clement Poitrenaud tried to usher it either into touch or into in-goal, but so perfect was the weight of the kick that its final roll took it over the Toulouse line.
By the time Poitrenaud attempted to touch it down Howley was on top of him. The Welshmen dived at the ball and grabbed the glory ahead of the unfortunate Toulouse full-back.
Irish referee Alain Rolland could hardly believe his eyes and ‘went upstairs’ to the Television Match Official. There was an agonising wait before Alan Lewis ruled ‘Try’ – much to the delight of the majority of the 73.057 crowd.
That try gave the London side a crucial advantage with just seconds to play and, to put icing on the sweetest of cakes, Mark Van Gisbergan’s kick hit the top of the bar before bouncing though.
In glorious conditions at Twickenham the Wasps fans raised the roof as it was clear Toulouse had no time to respond. It was a fitting end to a terrifically tense match between two top class sides.
Toulouse outside half Yann Delaigue opened the scoring after seven minutes with a penalty kick from 22m following Wasps infringing at a ruck.
Toulouse had their tails up, and doubled their advantage when Wasps were penalised at for repeatedly pulling down the scrum. Delaigue made them pay by slotting his second successful kick of the afternoon.
This only served to spur Wasps forward, and after progressing into the 22, Toulouse were penalised for hands in the ruck and Wasps full back Mark Van Gisbergan reduced the deficit to just three points.
Then came Wasps first try. The move began as Van Gisbergan and Simon Shaw combined well down the right hand flank, Howley recycled and fed the ball through the midfield. Stuart Abbot ran clever angle to dart over the line and put the London side into the lead for the first time.
Toulouse fought back immediately but could find no way thought a dogged Wasps defensive line, Delaigue attempting the first of two dropped goals he scuffed wide.
Moments later they nearly scored their first try of the game when Ntamack seemed destined to catch Jauzion’s cross kick in the scoring zone, but the muscular Josh Lewsey beat him to the bounce.
But referee Alain Rolland spotted an earlier infringement and offered Delaigue a shot at goal, but he missed the seemingly simple kick.
Wasps kicker Van Gisbergen rubbed salt into the wound as he landed a monster 45 penalty goal just seconds later to push the lead up to seven points at 13-6.
But Toulouse clawed their way back into the game late in the first half. Delaigue reacted quickest a chip ahead and grounded the bouncing ball in the right hand corner, despite the attentions of an unlucky Lewsey, however, his kick was woefully wide sending his side in to the interval trailing by just two points.
The second half scoring began with a try for Van Gisbergan. Alex King wriggled free and into Toulouse territory, he fed the full back who raced in from 22m and had the strength to hold off a tryline challenge from Finau Maka. The conversion pushed the advantage to nine points.
And when Delaigue missed anther penalty attempt in the 47th minute the feeling was that Toulouse’s chances were slipping away. Another attempted drop goal from the number 10 missed the mark just three minutes later.
Toulouse had all the territory, but there was no way through for the Frenchmen, and the confidence of Wasps was visibly growing.
Clerc almost found a way through, but spilled at the crucial moment But their possession and territory eventually tuned into points when replacement fly half jean Baptisite Ellissalde brought the Frenchman to within one score with a penalty following Dallaglio’s visit to the sin bin for persistent infringement at the breakdown.
King had a drop goal attempt bounce off the left hand upright after 77 minutes, and experienced further luck when a dangerous looking Toulouse break ended when the final pass went straight to Birtkett’s hands.
But their luck changed when referee Rolland ruled Wasps had played foul during a lineout on their own 22, and Ellissalde’s kick cut the gap to three points.
Van Gisbergan then missed a long-range pot at goal before a streaker put a smile on the faces of the Twickenham crowd.
However when Ellissalde drew the scores level at 20-20 with just four minutes to play, it seemed the pendulum had swung in favour of Toulouse.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and London Wasps British Lion scrum half Howley scored the try that will go down in Heineken Cup history as one of the cheekiest efforts imaginable. Van Gisbergen’s kick just about went over, and that was it – the match was won.
London Wasps 27 Toulouse 20
HT: 13-11 Attendance: 73,057
London Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, F Waters, S Abbott, T Voyce; A King, R Howley; T Payne, T Leota, W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, P Volley, L Dallaglio (capt)
Scorers: Tries – R Howley, S Abbott, M Van Gisbergen; Cons – M Van Gisbergen (3); Pens – M Van Gisbergen (2);
Yellow cards: L Dallaglio (56)
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; E Ntamack (V Clerc 66), C Desbrosse, Y Jauzion, C Heymans; Y Delaigue (J Elissalde 52), F Michalak; P Collazo, W Servat (Y Bru 58), J Poux, F Pelous (capt), T Brennan (D Gerard 52), J Bouilhou, F Maka, C Labit (I Maka 58)
Scorers: Try – Y Delaigue; Pens – J Elissalde (3), Y Delaigue (2);
Man of the match: J Worsley (London Wasps)
Match points: London Wasps 4 pts; Toulouse 1 pts
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)