WASPS, playing comfortably their best rugby of the season, still managed to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory against a Clermont side that called on all their vast European experience to make the quarterfinals.
The tie ended in added time with the splendid Kotaro Matsushima darting over for the decisive try – which still needed converting – although Camille Lopez was never going to miss. If you’re having a punt on the Champions Cup this season check out this Betway Welcome Offer.
Wasps were left shaking their heads about what seemed a clear forward pass to Seb Vahaamahina earlier in the build-up and indeed a possible knock-on by replacement prop Bib Biziwu but it was a game of close calls. Wasps had three tries chalked off by the TMO in the first half alone.
It will hurt but the fact Wasps were on the backfoot at the death was down to them. First Jimmy Gopperth, replacing the excellent Michael le Bourgeois with five minutes left, gave away a careless penalty for a seatbelt tackle in the Clermont 22 when there was little apparent danger.
And then another replacement, Zach Kibirige, went to the bin for a deliberate slap down wide on the right 50 metres out. Again there seemed no obvious try threat. It was from the touchfinder that followed that Clermont, built towards Matsushima’s score.
A high octane game had begun with a fine try from Paolo Odogwu after Le Bourgeois had burst through Lopez and offloaded expertly. It should have been 14-0 moments later when Mateo Minozzi chipped and sprinted through for a cracker – the TMO spotted he had dropped the ball in the act of touching down. Even then you sensed it might well cost Wasps dear. It did.
Clermont hit back with two tries to rub salt into the wounds. The first was well taken by the speedy Seb Bezy while the second came when prop Ravai sprinted down the left flank after a loose drop-out 22 from Jacob Umaga.
Wasps soon dominated again, though, and there was the frustration of a Tommy Taylor try being disallowed after an inside pass from Dan Robson was judged forward before Odoguw somehow blasted his way down the right touchline to score another try of the season contender.
Again the TMO stepped in and it was decided his white boot had fractionally grazed the white touchline. It might have been fractonally above the line but the colour of the boot made it impossible to see daylight. Memo to Odogwu. Never wear white boots again.
Wasps did level up with a crisply-worked try for Josh Bassett, and two penalties just before half time gave them a useful six- point lead. Lopez clawed three points back with a simple penalty but throughout the third quarter Wasps continued to look for scores and were rewarded when prop Ben Harris reached over a disintegrating ruck to score their third try.
Clermont stirred themselves again. Centre George Moala had a try disallowed after a big forward pass but Lopez narrowed the deficit to five points with his second penalty to set up the grandstand finish.
Tries: Odogwu 5, Bassett 23, Harris 54
Conversions: Umaga 6, 24
Penalties: Umaga 39, 40+2
WASPS: Minozzi 6; Odogwu 8 (Kibirige 70, 5.5), Fekitoa 7, Le Bourgeois 8.5 (Gopperth 75), Bassett 7; Umaga 6.5, Robson 7; Harris 7, Taylor 7.5 (Oghre 62, 6) Brookes 7, Launchbury (c) 8, Rowlands 6.5, Gaskell 6, Young 7 (Willis 66, 6), Shields 8 Allen, Vailanu, Wolstenholme
Not used: Owlett, Toomaga-Allen, Vailanu, Wolstenholme
Tries: Bezy 12, Ravai 18, Matsuchima 80+2
Conversions: Nanai-Williams 12, Lopez 18, 80+3
Penalties: Lopez 53, 67
CLERMONT: Matsushima 8; Penaud 7, Moala 7, Fofana 6 (Bethan 70, 6), Raka 6.5 (Nanai-Williams 70, 6); Lopez (c) 7 (Nanai-Williams 6-16), Bezy 7 (Parra 49, 7); Ravai 7.5 (Biziwu 65, 6), Pelissie 7 (Fourcade 49, 7) Ojovan 7 (Slimani 65, 6.5), Jedrasiak 7 (Lanen 65, 6), Vahaamahina 7.5, Cancoriet 7, Fischer 7 (Yato 49, 7), Lee 8
REFEREE: Frank Murphy (Ire)
STAR MAN: Michael Le Bourgeois – Wasps