Heartbreak for Wasps as Lyon hold off late comeback to reach Challenge Cup final

Lyons 20 Wasps 18

What will hurt Wasps the most is that they had a real chance to win here, only to come up short in their bid to secure the club’s first appearance in a European final since 2007.

This was a brave effort, controlling the territory battle and dominating the scrum while marshalled brilliantly by Dan Robson in the first half to lead at the break against a Lyon side chasing a first-ever appearance in a European final. But that composition deserted Lee Blackett’s side after half-time on a roasting afternoon in eastern France, with two tries in seven minutes and the boot of young fly-half Leo Berdeu guiding Lyon to a historic finale. Desperate as this will have been for Wasps, for a club with Lyon’s ambitions this was a huge moment six years after their latest promotion to the Top 14.

Three penalties in a row against Lyon, two at the maul, put Wasps in a promising position to strike early and take the initiative. They failed, a poached lineout by Dylan Cretin killing Wasps’ chance before a Joel Kpoku turnover gave Lyon some breathing room. The former Saracens arrived here in November, setting in well enough to nail a starting berth alongside former France lcok Romain Taofifenua, with his early break a highlight.

If the Wasps’ memo was to try and control territory then they nailed it, a Robson box-kick one of many nudges off the boot pinning Lyon back, containing Lyon’s desire to attack by pinning the hosts back in their own half.

Malakai Fekitoa and Josua Tuisova colliding like a couple of runaway boulders was a highlight in a scoreless opening 20 minutes. But Tom West’s excellent scrum pressure on Demba Bamba followed by a 50:22 from Jacob Umaga gave Wasps an inviting platform five meters out from which they struck, Robson darting to the blindside after a maul collapsed to give the visitors a deserved lead.

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Berdeu’s break lifted a muted crowd but once more Wasps’ defense held firm. The only potential stumbling block was a lengthy review for an alleged dangerous tackle from Fekitoa – it wasn’t, Berdeu was halfway to ground and fell below Fekitoa’s tackle – as Wasps continued to do their best to pin Lyon deep in their own half.

Finally the hosts did escape, attacking off a scrum free-kick – where Wasps appeared to have the edge but were overeager – leading to a penalty for a tackle off the ball which Berdeu converted to make it 3-5. Wasps duly responded with a Gopperth penalty to give the visitors a narrow lead at the break.

Wasps burst into the second half, a multi-phase attack squandered with a knock-on by Brad Shields as the try line beckoned. Lyon countered with Umaga appearing to be in hot water after a high tackle, only to not be penalized much to the ire of the home crowd.

Soon Lyon were far happier, Berdeu finishing off an attack started from a quick lineout in Lyon’s half. Charlie Ngatai’s break, cutting inside, had Wasps scrambling and with an overlap to exploit Berdeu darted over for the lead at 10-8 following the conversion.

An instant penalty at the breakdown from Wasps allowed Gopperth to nudge Wasps back ahead, but only briefly. Umaga was utterly demolished under a high ball by Tuisova and company, giving Lyon an inviting platform inside Wasps’ 22, plus a penalty advantage, to strike. They delivered, the forwards going to work and Yannick Charcosset, fresh on the field, finishing things off for a 17-11 lead with Berdeu’s conversion.

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A poorly-executed up-and-under from Umaga could have led to three more points for Berdeu after Wasps were called offside, only for the effort from inside his own half to fall short. Wasps now though were wobbling, the restart from Berdeu’s miss flying out on the full. From the resulting lineout Lyon’s maul earned a penalty, only for Berdeu from much closer to miss again. But once more Wasps killed themselves, Zach Kibirige’s knock-on when a high kick appeared set to bounce dead giving Lyon a scrum five meters out. While they couldn’t score, Berdeu nailed his penalty this time to give Lyon a 20-11 lead.

Trailing by two scores and the clocking winding down Wasps needed a spark. Or the sun, which blinded Lyon full-back Toby Arnold as he went to make a catch, the ball dropping Wasps’ way with Dan Frost appearing to score before it was ruled out for crossing.

Kibirige had a chance too, collecting a poor Ngatai kick and bursting clear only to miss out on regathering his own chip. Wasps would not go quietly, earning a penalty sent to the corner which, following a clever bit of misdirection at the maul, produced a vital try with six minutes left finished by Gopperth of all people. Following his conversion from him, the game was on a knife-edge at 20-18.

Lyon were now willing the clock to run down, with Wasps needing to counter attack from their own 22 to reach the final. Courageous as they were, it was ultimately not enough.

match details

Scoring sequence: 0-5 Robson try; 3-5 Berdeu pen; 3-8 Gopperth pens; 8-8 Berdeu tries; 10-8 Berdeu with; 10-11 Gopperth pen; 15-11 Charcosset try; 17-11 Berdeu with; 20-11 Berdeu pen; Gopperth try 20-16; 20-18 Gopperth with

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Lyons: T Arnold; J Tuisova, P Barassi, C Ngatai, D Niniashvili; L Berdeu, B Couilloud (J Doussain 51); S Taofifenua (J Rey 51), G Marchand (Y Charcosset 51), D Bamba (F Gomez Kodela 51), J Kpoku (F Lambey 66), R Taofifenua (T Mayanavanua 38), D Cretin, B Saginadze, P Sobela ( L Goujon 68)

Not used: X Mignot

Wasps: J Umaga (Z Kibirge 58); F Hougaard, M Fekitoa (S Spink 71), J Gopperth, J Bassett; C Atkinson, D Robson (W Porter 61); T West (R Hislop 71), G Oghre (D Frost 54), B Alo (E Millar-Mills 58), J Launchbury, E Stooke (J Gaskell 70), B Shields (T Willis 58), J Willis, A Barbeary

Referee: F Murphy (IRE)


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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