Wasps 25-24 Exeter: Jimmy Gopperth kicks the winner with 80 up as Wasps edge into Champions Cup semi-final
Jimmy Gopperth kept his nerve to kick Wasps into the European Champions Cup semi-finals
The visitors led 14-6 at half-time after two tries from Thomas Waldrom wiped out Gopperth’s two kicks
Wasps’ Charles Piutau and away prop Harry Williams traded tries and Gareth Steenson kicked Exeter 24-11 ahead
Wing Frank Halai gave Wasps hope, but Exeter looked set to hang on until Gopperth converted Piutau’s try
Jimmy Gopperth landed a nerveless match-winning conversion with the final kick of an epic European Champions Cup quarter-final to break Exeter’s hearts at the Ricoh Arena. The battle between second and third in the Aviva Premiership was to put it simply outstanding.
An incredible finale saw waves of endless Wasps pressure, culminating in the full-back’s late try. Gopperth converted to win it in dramatic fashion and book a semi-final berth. The hosts, who won the Heineken Cup in 2004 and 2007, will play either Saracens or Northampton in the last four.
Gopperth, 32, told BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra live: “As a goalkicker they are the moments you practice night and day.
“I had to treat it as my first kick of the match. I was relaxed and as soon as it hit the foot I’ve never celebrated so much. As soon as I struck it, I knew it was good.
“The win was a great team effort from that position and we showed a lot of character. I was happy to finish it off for the boys.”
In what was the expected hugely physical and often brutal battle, the hosts triumphed mainly thanks to an exceptional performance in attack and defence from RUCK man of the match Charles Piutau, the boot of Jimmy Gopperth as well as a mammoth collective show of power to come from behind to snatch it in the second half before a crowd of 23,866.
It was never pretty by Dai Youngs’ men but they overall probably just merited it. They found themselves six points up early on, but courtesy of a quickfire Thomas Waldrom double before the break were behind 14-6 after the opening 40.
Three minutes after the restart the hosts were back within touching distance after All Black Piutau, who was making his return from injury, finished off a special team try.
However, the lively visitors responded with replacement prop Harry Williams getting what seemed at the time to be the crucial score before Steenson converted and added a penalty to give the visitors a 13 point lead.
Frank Halai then ran in a second try for Wasps with 15 minutes to go to set up a grandstand finish before Charles Piutau’s second right at the end reduced the deficit to just one point. Gopperth, controlled as ever, then kicked the winner with 80 up on the clock, which meant in dramatic fashion Wasps reach the semi-finals of the Champions Cup.
It was tense and close in the opening few minutes, with Gopperth giving Wasps an initial three-point lead from the tee on the six-minute mark after a frantic start to the match.
The fly-half then doubled the hosts tally after 17 minutes with another successful penalty, 6-0.
But the Chiefs would lead at the break after Waldrom, who scored a hat-trick of tries when Exeter beat Wasps in an Aviva Premiership encounter four months ago, forced down his 18th and 19th try of the season in a four minute, quickfire double for the visitors.
The number eight first finished off a rolling maul before the big man intercepted a pass to race over for a second. Steenson added the extras to both scores with ease, which meant Exeter from behind suddenly led 14-6 heading into the break.
A special try from Wasps three minutes after the restart though reduced the deficit. A little grubber kick from Dan Robson landed perfectly on the angle for Charles Piutau and the full-back raced over to touch down in the corner. Gopperth had a hard conversion to take from the left-hand side, and it drifted wide of the posts, 11-14.
But replacement prop Williams, with his golden locks, got down low slid under the posts for Exeter just three minutes later. After a long time being studied by the TMO, the try was given by Romain Poite with Steenson adding the extras to open up a ten-point lead.
The Chief should have then scored another try after great work, but OllyWoodburn’s final pass to Parling was forward as the lock dived over in the corner. They did though extend their lead soon after to 13-points when Steenson slotted a penalty, 11-24.
Wasps though would not stay down, and they had a second spectacular try, which began behind their own try line after 65 minutes. Thomas Young carried hard and offloaded to Piutau, who in turn fed to Frank Halai, who crossed the line and wriggled towards the posts to make the conversion easier for Gopperth, who knocked over the extras with ease to reduce the deficit to six points.
Heavy Wasps pressure followed, with Charles Piutau dotting down with the clock beyond the 80-minute mark and giving Gopperth the chance to win it from the tee. He duly obliged to shatter Exeter’s drea
Wasps: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith, 6 James Haskell (c), 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Rob Miller
Exeter: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Moray Low, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Michele Campagnaro, 23 James Short
Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: Ricoh Arena
Kick-off: 15:15 BST (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)