European champs still only second best

Wasps coach Ian McGeechan paid tribute to his troops following their emphatic 25-9 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Final of the Heineken Cup on Sunday, but revealed that the newly crowned kings of the continent were not the best team in Europe.

Wasps were left kicking their heels after they failed to qualify for the Guinness Premiership play-offs, leaving them without much-needed match practice in the run-up to their clash with battle-hardened Leicester.

When a request for a game with Bath – the European Challenge Cup finalists – was turned down, McGeechan’s 1st XV was unleashed on their understudies … and lost.

The result was the wake-up call McGeechan’s big names needed. Leicester hardly got a look in on Sunday as Wasps proved, once again, that they react to Spring in the manner of their namesakes.

“I’m not sure what our second team are going to say about this,” joked McGeechan after the game. “They are the only team that have beaten the European champions in recent weeks.”

But that is not to say that Wasps’ pool of talent runs deep. Both McGeechan and club captain Lawrence Dallaglio were at pains to point out that they were a mere slip of a side when compared to the giants that fell at Twickenham on Sunday.

Indeed, Dallaglio did a good if unconvincing impression of David when asked to assess the prone figure of Goliath.

“Leicester have had a fantastic season and have the strength in depth to be able to compete on three fronts,” he said.

“We don’t have as big a squad so this was always our target for the season.

“We don’t yet have the resources or the financial clout of Leicester.

“We don’t own our own stadium or have 17,000 people coming to watch us day in day out.

“But what this team has is soul and that is why we have been able to stand toe to toe with the likes of Leicester in the professional era.

“My job is to simply win rugby matches, but we’ve got to sort out the off-field issues. We haven’t got the buying power or strength in depth that they have.

“We need to go away and address the issues off the field and make sure we don’t fail because of our lack of ability to compete at that level.

“We need to sort ourselves out and move forward. We need to compete with the likes of Leicester, Harlequins and Northampton who have great facilities.”

McGeechan concurred with his captain, visibly recoiling when asked to explain the discrepancy between a fifth-placed finish to the league season and a European crown.

“This was the only competition we could pick our first team for – we targeted it from the outset,” said the Scot.

But not that the side that toppled Leicester’s tilt at the treble was a full-blooded 1st XV.

Tom French, a 23-year-old Old Harrovian who has never seen action in the Guinness Premiership, ousted Peter Bracken from the starting line-up on the morning of the game and promptly played a blinder.

Indeed, the antics of the man who has been on loan to lowly Henley for much of the season caused Leicester prop Julian White to lose his cool on a number of occasions – tantrums that drew a Rolando-like wink from his fellow England team-mate, Wasps prop Phil Vickery.

“For a player to step into a match of this magnitude with no experience of the big-time was a fantastic achievement,” Wasps scrum coach Craig Dowd.

“White is one of the most destructive scrummagers in the game but young Tom did a magnificent job.”

Although McGeechan refused to divulge the details of that remarkable internal match at Adams Park, one suspects that French is currently celebrating his second win of the week.

By Andy Jackson at Twickenham 365 Digital

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