Wasps 32 - Toulon 6: Renaissance of English rugby starts early
No sooner has the wily Australian taken charge of the national side than English clubs are wiping the floor with their European rivals.
Wasps completed the weekend Champions Cup whitewash last night with a victory over holders Toulon which was, frankly, staggering.
Two tries apiece for wing Frank 'The Tank' Halai and No 8 Nathan Hughes inflicted on the galacticos their worst defeat in Europe for five years and second-heaviest of all time and brought Wasps a bonus point in the process.
It rounded off the Premiership clubs' best weekend in Europe for seven years. If there is not quite a feel-good factor about English rugby yet then at least the feel-like-throwing-yourself-off-a-bridge factor, which descended at the World Cup, has disappeared.
"I never thought English rugby was in a bad place. People talked it up and then cut it down but we have a great set of players in this country and great spirit," said Wasps captain James Haskell.
"I may have to eat my words if the French clubs come back are do what they are capable of but English rugby is in a good place.
"With all the madness and all the sadness in the world and with losing Jonah Lomu so early I said to the guys before the game today to appreciate how lucky they were and to enjoy ourselves. We did that."
In the space of a fortnight Dai Young's rampaging Coventry collective have shaken up Pool 5 to its core.
Last week they crushed Leinster 33-6 win in Dublin and yesterday they emphatically turned the tables on the side that knocked them out in the quarterfinals on their way to their third successive European title.
Having met the physical threat head on, Wasps made Toulon looked slow and lumpy in comparison. They were sharper in body and mind.
Wasps carried from where they left off in Dublin last week, stunning the holders with two tries inside the opening 11 minutes. They were crackers too.
Fijian-born No 8 Hughes, who qualifies for England in June, finished off the first one in the left-hand corner after Halai had made some thumping headway up the middle.
Then Ruaridh Jackson added the second, spotting space with a deft chip which bounced into Joe Simpson's hands. One instant offload later James Gaskell, a late call-up for the ill Bradley Davies, was roaming free and the dextrous second row, who was named man of the match, put Jackson away for the try.
The spark in attack - evident whenever Christian Wade had his hands on the ball - was matched by the resolve the Wasps pack showed in slowing Toulon possession to treacly stodge at every breakdown.
When Halai was put away by his fellow Kiwi Charles Piutau for his second try 11 minutes after the break Wasps were almost home and hosed.
Toulon's coach Bernard Laporte responded with a quadruple substitution which included the early removal of the subdued Steffon Armitage. It was George Smith who won the breakdown battle yesterday for Wasps.
The bonus point try they emphatically deserved came with 14 minutes left as Hughes was driven over from a lineout to send the normally reserved Joe Launchbury off on a manic dance of delight. It meant that much.
Wasps were able to take Haskell off as a precaution at this point after a blow to the left shoulder having already contributed a meaty 20 tackles.
Jones was not around to see the show-stopping win. He was on his way to Los Angeles to a World Rugby de-brief for Japan and the other Tier Two nations.
His predecessor Stuart Lancaster was at the Ricoh Arena watching the game. Old habits clearly die hard. When Lancaster's face appeared on the big screen, there was warm applause from the crowd of 20,050 and a smile in return.
It was reassuring to see that he has got over the anguish of England's World Cup. Wasps' victory win took the Premiership clubs' record to ten wins in 11 games in the Champions Cup so far this season. It looks like the healing process in English rugby is going OK too.
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