Ulysses S Grant once said “In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins” This quote perfectly depicted an epic sensational semi-final thriller that the crowd and global television audience were treated to at the Ricoh Arena between Wasps and Leicester Tigers. Gladiatorial tussles entwined with late twists, it would be Josh Bassett that would typify the obdurate General and President words.
Two rugby giants of English rugby with 16 premiership titles between them converged at the Ricoh Arena, the Swashbuckling buccaneering style of Wasps unbeaten at home since December 2015 versus a Leicester side that has gone through three coaching changes and a captain with facing personal heartache . England coach Eddie Jones in attendance the prize of Twickenham in sight for one of these teams, it would take a Brendan O’Connor infringement for Wasps to get on the scoreboard in the first minute with a penalty that Jimmy Gopperth converted. Leicester’s Telanu Veanu dazzled as he tried to hit back only for his teammate Freddie Burns to unnecessarily put their side under pressure with a loose kick. Wasps took advantage with a lineout drive and the ball was fed to their superstar backline who combined well allowing Kurtley Beale to score. Would this be a rout as Leicester fritted away good field position and possession? Fortunately they showed grit and determination as they got their first points on the board with a penalty, Nathan Hughes failing to release the ball with poor body positioning after driving upright. Another penalty soon after and Leicester were back in the game trailing 10-6, Wasps would punish Leicester’s indiscipline stretching their lead a further three points. Referee Matthew Carley in his first semi caused some controversy, as he allowed play to continue after Wasps Danny Cipriani was hit somewhat late by Dom Barrow. Freddie Burns took advantage looping a huge pass to Peter Betham out wide to score with boos ringing around the Ricoh, bringing the teams all square after the conversion .The remainder of the half would see the Welford road side continue to give away penalties in their red zone, Profligacy from Wasps would only see them add only three points to finish the first half.
The second half started brightly for Leicester as they built pressure with phase after phase only to spill the ball at crucial times. However it seemed as if they were now bullying Wasps as they continuously beat them at the breakdown and this would translate into a forced pass by Wasps Hooker Ashley Johnson, Owen Williams tipped back the ball creating a try for Veanu to score. Freddie Burns who was having an excellent game adding the extras and Leicester led for the first time 20-16. It would get worse for Wasps so it seemed as they lost their Australian star fullback Kurtley Beale as he left the field with a leg inury. Leicester Captain Tom Youngs would depart the field to a standing ovation from both sets of supporters fully acknowledging the personal turmoil he faces. The match came to life as both sides threw everything at each other neither taking a backward step. It would take a man of the match resilient effort from Joe Launchbury to set up substitute Josh Bassett to score just as it looked like Leicester had done enough to win. Gopperth failed to convert leaving a nervy finish ninety seconds to the end of the match, James Gaskell managed to take the restart brilliantly and Wasps played out the remainder of the match. What a battle that ebbed and flowed, table toppers Wasps back in the final since 2008.