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Wasps scored a late try to knock Exeter Chiefs out of the European Rugby Champions Cup 25-24 at the Ricoh Arena.
Jimmy Gopperth had to kick a conversion on full time to win the match for Wasps and book a place in the Semi-finals and he held his nerve and kicked it.
The Chiefs, who were playing second-tier English rugby six years ago, looked to have earned a place in Europe’s last four after a double from the continent’s leading try scorer Thomas Waldrom, before Harry Williams looked to have sealed it with a drive over score to put Exeter 13 points ahead.
But Frank Halai added to Charles Piutau’s first-half score, before the All Blacks back crossed in the final minute. And Gopperth showed nerves of steel to slot the conversion from out-wide and earn a semi-final against either Saracens or Northampton Saints.
Wasps had all the early possession but the Chiefs held firm on the halfway line. But after five minutes of disciplined defending, Luke Cowan-Dickie finally gave a penalty away at a ruck, and Jimmy Gopperth fired the home side in-front.
A searing break from Siale Piutau put Wasps on the attack deep in Chiefs territory before a fumble allowed Exeter to clear. But the visitors were guilty of going off their feet at the next ruck and Gopperth doubled the lead.
But fortune favoured the brave. Rob Baxter’s men turned down a number of kickable penalties, and got their reward after 34 minutes. The Chiefs turned on the power from a close range lineout to shunt Waldrom over the line for his fifth try in four Champions Cup matches this season. Steenson converted to snatch the lead from the home side.
Gopperth hit the post with a penalty moments later, and he was made to pay by European Rugby’s leading try scorer. Waldrom intercepted a pass from Bradley Davies and charged towards the try line from 35 metres. The ‘tank engine’ was dragged down five metres short, but his momentum took him over the line for his 19th score of the season. Steenson was on target with the conversion to give his side a 14-6 half-time lead.
But Wasps reacted in sensational style after the break. Siale Piutau broke the line and fed Dan Robson, who sent an inch perfect grubber kick into the path of Charles Piutau. The All Black collected the bounce and dotted down. Gopperth missed the conversion, but Wasps had cut the gap to 14-11 after four second-half minutes.
But there was no stopping a rampant Chiefs from reasserting their dominance. They rumbled back downfield after Wasps score, and Don Armand carried hard. But it was front-row replacement Williams who used every inch of his giant frame to barge over to reclaim a 10 point advantage.
Stevenson added a penalty that looked to have wrapped it up, before Wasps turned on the style to get back in the game. Elliot Daly’s break from behind his own line gave Wasps crucial territory, before they worked the ball wide again to Thomas Young, who offloaded to Saile Piutau. He found Halai on the charge, and wing scored a crucial seven point score to cut the gap to six points.
And the hosts dug-deep to steal it at the death. Daly found Piutau after the forwards were repelled, and the full-back crashed in at the corner. And Gopperth showed nerves of steel to land the difficult conversion and send Wasps to their first semi-final since 2007.
Final Score Wasps 25 (6) Exeter Chiefs 24 (14)
Tries – Piutau (2), Halai
Pen – Gopperth (2)
Con – Gopperth (2)
Tries – Waldrom (2), Williams
Pen – Steenson
Con – Steenson (3)
Referee: Romain Poite (France),
Assistant ref: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland),
Assistant ref: Tual Trainini (France),
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland),
Citing Commissioner: Yves Thieffine (France)
Wasps: Charles Piutau; Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Siale Piutau, Frank Halai; Jimmy Gopperth, Dan Robson; Matt Mullan, Carlo Festuccia, Jake Cooper-Woolley, Joe Launchbury, Kearnan Myall, James Haskell (c), George Smith, Nathan Hughes
Replacements: Ashley Johnson, Simon McIntyre, Lorenzo Cittadini, Bradley Davies, Thomas Young, Joe Simpson, Ruaridh Jackson, Rob Miller
Exeter Chiefs: Lachlan Turner; Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Ian Whitten, Olly Woodburn; Gareth Steenson (c), Will Chudley; Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Moray Low, Mitch Lees, Geoff Parling, Don Armand, Julian Salvi, Tom Waldrom
Replacements: Jack Yeandle, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Damian Welch, Dave Ewers, Dave Lewis, Michele Campagnaro, James Short
With thanks to ERC Rugby
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