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Despite only one try, this was an entertaining game, aggressive throughout and tense to the end. Both teams showed counter attacking enterprise in the first half, providing some flowing movements from both sides that showcased the quality of both forwards and backs.
However, it was Saracens whose execution of their game plan allowed them to secure more continuity in their play as Wasps fell victim to the turnover once again. In contact, Saracens heavier pack were able to control the ball more effectively and command the majority of possession, and the moves that the home side put together on the counter attack were more frequent and ultimately more fruitful than those of Wasps.
The fragility of Wasps ball retention was evident in from the outset, but despite this it was the visitors who were on the scoreboard first. A scrum in midfield saw No8 Lawrence Dallaglio pick up and go blind. Offloading through scrum-half Dawson, to fly-half King, the returning No10 popped an inside pass to centre Josh Lewsey, who made ground before quick recycling allowed Dawson to break alone in to the 22. He couldn't get the ball away after being swallowed up by Bartholomeusz and Vaikona and referee Martin Fox was quick to award a penalty for slowing down release. Mark Van Gisbergen slotted the kick for a 3-0 lead.
A second penalty followed in the 14th minute, the Wasps full back again making no mistake from just inside the half way line, but Saracens fly half Glen Jackson countered with three pointer of his own three minutes later after his tactical kicking had allowed the home pack to establish a driving maul in the Wasps 22.
We had opportunities in the first half, and blew a couple of good chances. When you get into the realms of a one point game, you have to get those things right in order to win
The success of the drive and penalty inspired Saracens to greater confidence, and they enjoyed their best period to date. A chip through the midfield into the 22 from Jackson looked dangerous, but Voyce was alert in coming across to field the ball and kick to touch and clear the danger.
Direct running from Worsley and Lewsey set up Wasps next attack. Sackey came in looking for work off his wing to take the ball further into the Saracens 22, where the Watford men conceded a straightforward penalty for Van Gisbergen under the posts, giving the visitors a 9-3 lead after 24 minutes.
A line out steal after the restart allowed Wasps to continue ratcheting up the pressure. Good interchanging from King, Worsley and Lewsey and great footwork from Leo took the second rower to within metres of the touchline and a score looked likely, but Saracens scramble defence was able to drive the breakdown into touch and allay the danger.
Wasps were forced into a change on the half hour after Matt Dawson was forced from the field with an ankle injury after a late tackle, and the upper hand swung to Saracens after Alex King had a kick charged down, giving the home side a good attacking position in Wasps 22. Though King was able to get away his next clearance kick, it was only as far a Castaignede, playing on the right wing, who countered with a beautifully angled run into the Wasps 22. From the breakdown Saracens quickly swung the ball wide to the right where Wasps scramble defence, in the shape of Voyce and Dallaglio, brought down Vaikona and Chesney to keep the try line intact, though a penalty to Saracens followed, converted by Jackson to bring his side back to 9-6 after 34 minutes.
Jackson and Bartholomeusz then kept Wasps on the defensive with some raking kicks, and their team-mates continued to enjoy some good counterattacking opportunities following Wasps clearance kicks, though a brace of forward passes halted dangerous looking attacks.
Wasps looked to have put together a scoring attack as the half came to a close, a sniping break down the left from Van Gisbergen setting up quick ball for Lewsey and Sackey to make ground going right. Bracken bashed up the middle, but Reddan fumbled the recycled ball and the chance was gone, leaving the game balanced at 9-6 to Wasps as the teams went in for the interval.
After the handling enterprise of the first half, the second half was a more dogged affair that began with a period of tactical kicking. Following this, Sackey and Van Gisbergen both made promising runs down the right wing, the latter resulting in a penalty to Wasps. King's decision to kick for the line out rather than take the points may have been a turning pint in the game, as Wasps attempt at a driving maul from the line-out was easily managed by the bigger Saracens pack, Jackson's clearance ensuring the visitors left his 22 empty handed.
Saracens on the other hand were more successful with their next attacking foray. An interception from Vaikona allowed Vyvyan and Castaignede to gallop away up the middle. Following Lewsey's tackle on the Frenchman, Byrne was away down the right, and further good recycling allowed Castaignede a second attacking chance. He took with both feet, dancing his way through the Wasps cover defence to score under the posts and take his side into the lead for the first time.
Jackson's conversion was good, taking Saracens out to 13-9. Van Gisbergen missed a penalty from the 10 metre line just minutes later, though he was successful with his next attempt, on the hour, that brought Wasps back to within a point of their hosts, at 13-12.
It was to be the last score of the game. Saracens enjoyed the majority of the possession for the final quarter, and though Wasps showed ambition in attack when they had the opportunity, they too frequently turned over the ball and put themselves again on the defensive. In contrast, the heavier Saracens packs were able to retain the ball much more consistently. Indeed, prop Kevin Yates found himself on the end of another dynamic counter-attack and barrelling towards the line when only a brave tackle from Eoin Reddan prevented him from scoring.
With time running out, the kicking of Jackson and Batholomeusz ensured the game remained in the Wasps half, and Saracens successfully and ran down the clock to cue ecstatic celebrations on the final whistle.
After the game Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan paid tribute to the winning team, saying, 'Saracens deserved to win today. We made too many errors and there was no momentum in our game in the second half. We had opportunities in the first half, and blew a couple of good chances. When you get into the realms of a one point game, you have to get those things right in order to win.
'It was a very competitive game, with some hard running and hard hits, and very aggressive in the contact area. I'm disappointed that we weren't clinical enough and that we didn't score a tries when we had the chances.'
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio agreed that the best team won on the day. 'Saracens came out with a game plan and executed it well. It was a feisty derby, and they showed a bit of character. I think they probably deserved the win with the endeavour that they showed.
'I'm disappointed with our ability to hold onto the ball, and we missed kicks and try scoring opportunities that we would have taken on other days.
'However, this result makes it an interesting battle at the top of the Premiership. Both Sale and ourselves have been reeled back in by the pack, and if we are to successfully defend our title, we are going to have to do it the hard way, as we are facing some tough games in the run in to the play-offs. But that's the nature of this competition. It's good for the game, and good for the play-off concept.'
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