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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 April, 2004, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Late sting by Wasps

By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport at Lansdowne Road

So it will be Lawrence Dallaglio's Men in Black taking on the French aristocrats of Toulouse in the Heineken Cup final on 23 May.

First, the defending champions from France did their bit on Saturday by defeating Biarritz.

Then, 24 hours later, it was the turn of Wasps as they stoically fought off Munster in a game that will be remembered for a long time for its intensity.

The tournament has seen many minor epics since its sure-footed introduction back in 1995, but at Lansdowne Road on Sunday it was as good as it gets. It was just awesome.

Lawrence Dallaglio
Dallaglio was simply immense

The best sides from England and Ireland were duelling under the mid-afternoon sun - and boy was it hot.

The game had everything - seven tries, 69 points, great attacking nous, magnificent defence, and at one stage it needed a turnstile for recipients of yellow cards.

There was drama around every corner and you just never knew what was going to happen next.

In the end, Wasps deservedly edged it 37-32. They deserved it not for just winning the try count five to two, but the way they showed great character in retrieving a 10-point deficit midway through the half.

Fortunes swung to and fro, and there was nearly twist in the tale at the death as Munster went for broke with the last attack of the game.

It was not to be. When the final whistle sounded it was to Lawrence Dallaglio that the Wasps team ran to, and no wonder.

He was simply immense in attack and defence, and he did his fair bit of refereeing as well. If you ever wanted somebody to lead you into the trenches, it would be the England captain.

Trevor Leota goes over for a late try
Leota's late try was crucial for Wasps

Those trenches were the stands and terraces of the old stadium in Dublin, which creaked and groaned throughout.

Dallaglio said it was a bear-pit of a game. But a bear would have struggled to survive in some of the rucks, mauls and general melee.

With just 2,000 of the capacity crowd on their side, Wasps were confronted by a sea of red as they ran onto the pitch, as if some big giant spray can had exploded in the heat over the ground.

But Wasps were unperturbed. Right from the third minute, scoring tries was like shelling peas.

Munster will claim that the loss of Ronan O'Gara with a leg injury just before the break damaged their hopes, but I doubt it.

His deputy Jason Holland saw his first clearance kick charged down by Rob Howley for Paul Volley to score.

But Holland regained his confidence to end up by landing three pressure-cooker penalties and a couple of conversions to add to some clever tactical kicking.

Wasps flanker Joe Worsley
Joe Worsley was part of a superb back row

One then felt for Munster when Mark van Gisbergen swooped for his side's third try a minute after the restart.

Then came the typical fightback by the Irishmen. They scored 17 unanswered points to take a 32-22 lead. That was it, one thought. Not Dallaglio or Wasps, though.

With Rob Henderson following Donncha O'Callaghan into the sin-bin, Wasps showed what they are made of with Alex King kicking a penalty and converting Volley's second try to level the game with five minutes remaining.

Wasps obviously did not fancy another 20 minutes with Munster and it was their Samoan hooker Trevor Leota who broke Munster hearts when he charged over in the corner for a try.

Munster may have missed out on another final, but they have contributed so much to European rugby that they will be feted despite defeat.

That, though, will not appease the players who gave their all for their province on Sunday, and they will know they missed a glorious chance of their third final in five magnificent years.

Instead it will be Wasps, and in particularly Dallaglio, who will feel very much at home in the decider at Twickenham next month.




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