13 December 2004
Leicester Tigers head coach John Wells was understandably elated with his side's second successive Heineken Cup Pool 1 win over London Wasps, but even happier that they remain in control of their own destiny in terms of a European play-off spot this season.
Tigers next face Biarritz, on the weekend of January 7/8/9, at Welford Road, before travelling to Italy the following weekend to take on Calvisano - two matches they have to win.
"Well, it's in our hands now, isn't it?" Wells half-asked afterwards. "If we had lost both of these matches to Wasps we would definitely have been out, as it would've meant three losses in a row. Had it been one-all against Wasps, it would've been dependant on other results, but we know if we win our next two games we can go through."
When quizzed about the challenge of facing Biarritz - who beat Leicester 23-8 away from home back in October - next year, Wells added: "If Biarritz turn up, and at this moment in time they're obviously still well in with a shout in this competition, then they're as dangerous as any team we'll have to play at Welford Road, including Wasps today.
They play a different style or brand of rugby to anybody in the Zurich Premiership and I remember them turning Sale over away from home in the Heineken Cup last season and also winning an away quarter-final. We have a lot of respect for them, and I know they're up and down in the French championship, but I think they recruited well for Europe and we'll deal with them after Christmas."
But on Sunday's 35-27 win over London Wasps, the defending Heineken Cup and Zurich Premiership champions, Wells continued: "I'm very proud of the lads. I know how much it hurt them last week, but for them to train like they did this week, and to prepare themselves, has been a massive effort."
Tigers, as they did last time out, racked up an early lead over Wasps - a 19-0 advantage this time around after 19 minutes - but could only watch as the reigning champions fought back to 13-19, before a double strike before the half-time break gave the home team a 29-13 lead. Wasps, however, never gave up, threatening in the second half and denying Leicester that crucial four-try bonus point.
"Today, like last week, we could just never get away from Wasps," said Wells. "They kept coming back and chipping away at us and we could never relax or get into any stride. If they hadn't got that late try, just down the short side, then maybe we could've gone for the touchline more, instead of going for goal, in the last few minutes. We didn't, and credit must go to Wasps. I thought both teams today were tremendous; I think the best team won, but Wasps contributed to another game which was excellent in terms of its intensity and quality.
"I think we rode our luck over the last two weeks. Every ball, every bounce, every move we tried in the first 20 minutes of both games just came off. You have periods when things go right for you, as I'm sure that you'll be questioning me later in the season as to what went wrong and why. But today, and last week, we started very, very well."
Asked to compare Sunday's match to last week's 68-point thriller at Causeway Stadium, in High Wycombe, Tigers' coach added: "I think there was more movement with the ball in this week's match, even if the physical exchanges were not as intense."
Tigers No.9 Harry Ellis, who made his England debut of the bench last month, was a constant thorn in Wasps scrum-half Matt Dawson's side, whilst he also capped off his wonderful performance with a brilliant first-half try.
"I think it was a massive team effort, of which during the course, a number of players had to show up," said Wells, always one to stay away from heaping praise on individuals.
"Harry did his bit and took his try, Ben Kay came back into the side, having had three or four weeks off, and I thought he had a tremendous game. You can probably go around the side; everyone contributed in some way, again, not least, Andy Goode, who kicked some tremendous goals and probably, in effect, has done more than anybody over the last two weeks to make sure we finished on the correct side of the score."
Meanwhile, London Wasps coach Warren Gatland was left ruing his side's poor start to the game, which saw Tigers run up their 19-0 lead.
"We weren't good enough in those first 20 minutes," he said. "We just weren't strong enough, and that has happened two weeks in a row.
"We showed that we have got a lot of character by fighting back in the way we did, but Leicester thoroughly deserved their win."