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Moment in Time: London Wasps and 2004 Heineken Cup Semi Final

Joe Worsley jumps up to celebrate another famous victory for Wasps Stunning game. Truly stunning result. Quite simply, this Anglo-Irish showdown in Dublin was one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, Heineken matches of all time. And at the end of 80 breathless minutes played in front of 48,000 full-throated Munster fans and a small knot of ‘Waspies’ huddled high in one of the Landsdowne Road stands, it was the brave away side who emerged victorious on a day when Wasps announced their arrival as a European force.

This was a match Wasps had no right to win. It was supposed to be Munster’s time; the year when their all-consuming quest for Heineken Cup glory was finally satisfied, the ghosts of Twickenham 2000, Lille 2001, Cardiff 2002 and Toulouse 2003 laid to rest. Sadly for the Irish province, the humble artisans of Wasps would ensure that only further misery ensued.

The atmosphere surrounding this match was febrile. Munster were playing far away from their Thomond Park stronghold in Limerick, but Dublin was anything but neutral as the red-shirted hordes descended on the Irish capital determined to claim the scalp of the English champions. And, as Wasps flanker Paul Volley explains, the visitors were left in no doubt about the size of the task facing them on this famous late-spring afternoon.

“It was an incredible day that is ingrained into my memory,” says Volley, whose running feud with Munster fly-half Ronan O’Gara would become one of game’s major post-match talking points. “My main recollection is of seeing red shirts everywhere… in our hotel, in our team room, at breakfast time and on the streets. We were hopelessly outnumbered.

“The hotel we were staying in was pretty close to Lansdowne Road so there were loads of Munster fans staying there. I remember us having to fight our way through the reception on to the team bus, and then once on board they were all jeering us and rocking the bus from side to side. We were left in no doubt as to what they thought and it was incredibly intimidating.

“Then we got to the stadium and it got even more intense. Walking out on to the pitch we were met by this wall of red, and as for the noise… it was simply deafening. The Munster fans are hugely patriotic towards their team and from pitch level we couldn’t see any Wasps fans at all.”

None of this unsettled Wasps, who began the match well and had built up a 17-15 lead by the break courtesy of tries from Josh Lewsey and Volley. The flanker recalls his score on the stroke of half-time as, “a brilliant effort from halfway where I chipped over a defender and re-gathered before scoring under the posts”. The reality, however, is that Volley forced his way over from a couple of yards after Rob Howley had executed a brilliant charge down.

The try was vital, but more important still was the way in which the Wasps defence had harried the talismanic O’Gara, eventually forcing him from the field after just 33 minutes. “He wasn’t too impressed with how we treated him,” says Volley, with classic understatement. “Our plan was to up our line-speed and get right in people’s faces, so we put O’Gara under immense pressure.

“When I meet up with Irish clients in business now, everyone brings up that Munster match and the conflict between myself and O’Gara. People claimed I’d been insulting his family, but that’s rubbish. I later had another run-in with him when Castres played Munster after I’d moved to France and he’s never really got over it, bless him!”

Trevor Leota scores a crucial try for Wasps

Trevor Leota scores a crucial try for Wasps

Even without O’Gara, the match appeared to be heading Munster’s way when they turned things around to lead 32-22 with 20 minutes remaining after Anthony Foley and captain Jim Williams had both gone over for tries. Lansdowne Road was in tumult and lesser sides would have folded, but Tom Voyce’s opportunistic try put Wasps back in it before hooker Trevor Leota sealed a glorious victory with a short range effort three minutes from time.

“Trevor still says our victory was all down to him, but it was down to character really,”  Volley adds. “We never thought we were going to lose and that was our mentality. We had belief and confidence that we could fight to the end and win, which is exactly what we did. It was the business end of the season for Wasps and no one thought about the consequences of losing.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: THE CLASS OF 2004

1. Craig Dowd: Returned to New Zealand in 2008 and coached North Harbour until November 2010. Is now a director of Merlin Sports NZ, a partner in D3tape and commentates on Sky Sports.

2. Trevor Leota: Left Wasps in 2005 and embarked on a nomadic adventure that saw him spend time in South Africa, France, Sydney and… Nuneaton! Now coaches kids in Dubai.

3. Will Green: Joined Leinster in 2005 where he played for two years. Returned to UK in 2007 and coached Worthing until 2011. Now works for performance firm Impact Sports.

4. Simon Shaw: Ended a 12-year association with Wasps in 2011 and moved to Toulon. Still going strong at the ripe old age of 38.

5. Richard Birkett: Still part of the Wasps engine room… the only survivor from the team that played Munster.

6. Joe Worsley: Forced to retire through injury last season and has just taken up the reins as defence coach at French Top 14 outfit Bordeaux-Begles.

 

7. Paul Volley: Joined Castres that summer, spending two years in France before returning to England to play for Harlequins (2006-8) and then London Scottish. Retired in 2010 and is now a business development manager at Debtwire.

8. Lawrence Dallaglio: Retired in 2008 and is now heavily involved in charity work through the Dallaglio Foundation. Also works as a pundit for BBC Sport and The Sunday Times.

9. Rob Howley: Retired that summer and began coaching with Cardiff RFC and the Blues. Joined the Wales coaching set-up in January 2008 and took charge of their recent tour to Australia.

10. Alex King: Joined Clermont Auvergne in 2007 and played on for two years before joining their coaching staff. Is also now responsible for the club’s development team.

11. Tom Voyce: Joined Gloucester in 2009 but is now looking for a new club.

12. Stuart Abbott: Joined Harlequins in 2006 but retired through injury the following year. Coached Rosslyn Park between 2008 and 2010 but is now back in South Africa working in telecoms.

13. Fraser Waters: Joined Treviso in 2008, where he played for two years before retiring. Is now a broker relationship manager in the City with Talbot Underwriting.

14. Josh Lewsey: Retired in 2009, but briefly emerged to help out Wasps at the end of the 2010-11 campaign. Is now a sales trader with Citigroup Global Markets Ltd.

15. Mark Van Gisbergen: Joined French side Lyon in 2011 but was released this summer.

Replacements

Ayoola Erinle (for Lewsey, 77): Joined Leicester Tigers in 2007 where he played for two years before moving to Biarritz. Returned to England in 2011 and joined Nottingham.

Peter Richards (for Howley, 79): Joined Gloucester in 2007 where he spent two seasons before moving to London Irish. Retired in 2010 to commentate for ESPN, now back at Irish as scrum-half coach.

 

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