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In a thoroughly entertaining game in front of a sell out crowd at Franklins Gardens this afternoon, Wasps beat Northampton Saints by 21-13 via a dramatic finale that saw two tries scored in the last ten minutes.
Wasps had an unusual look: running out in hoops for the first time in many seasons and without international players Ibanez, O'Connor, Dawson, Lewsey and Van Gisbergen. In addition, Club Captain Lawrence Dallaglio started the game from the bench, having suffered a bout of flu this week. In place of the absentees, Kiwi Joe Ward made his debut at hooker in front of a young back row of Hart, Rees and Lock. Reddan partnered the experienced Alex King at halfback whilst Tom Voyce moved to full back with Sackey and Hoadley on the wings.
'Today was a very important win, the sort of win that will definitely count when it comes to the final placing at the end of the season.' - Ian McGeechan.
All played their part, and the squad earned the praise of Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan after the match. Hoadley, despite seeing a yellow card in the first half, had a great game - as did Dallaglio when he came on in the second half. It was full back Tom Voyce who won the Man of the Match honours though, after having a busy game in both attack and defence as both teams played plenty of rugby throughout the 80 minutes.
An entertaining first half saw Alex King get Wasps off to a good start, two early penalties putting the visitors ahead after ten minutes.
Northampton's inspirational fly half, Carlos Spencer was playing with some freedom however, putting angled kicks, chips and grubbers in behind the Wasps back three that kept them on the toes as they were forced to race back to gather or touchdown under pressure from the chasing Saints on several occasions. After Reihana had missed his first penalty attempt on 17 minutes, Spencer put his team on the scoreboard in the 24th minute, taking an opportunistic pot at goal from just outside his 22, the drop goal going over the bring Saints back to 6-3
As the half continues to unfold, King attempted to give Wasps the field placement to attack from but Saints back three were gathering the high balls well and pinning Wasps back in their own half as they returned those kicks with interest.
With minutes left in the half, Spencer put Rudd through the line and the former Wasp looked to have broken the last tackle from Voyce to score, but he lost control of the ball in breaking the tackle. Wasps were nevertheless penalised though, and Reihana slotted a straightforward kick on the 38th minute to bring the home side back to 6-6 at half time.
A scrappy start to the second half saw both sides conceding possession through turnovers and handling errors, and Reihana's third penalty attempt, from half way, fell short after 44 minutes.
Wasps first promising attack of the second half came from a Spencer kick that was charged down, Hoadley fielding and feeding Abbott on the loop. The centre kicked on but was barged when making his follow up run and Saints were able to clear their lines. King was handed a penalty attempt on the 51st minute, but his kick from 35 metres out hit the post, Saints running the ball out of danger to alleviate any pressure.
Wasps' first try came just minutes later. Dallaglio picked up from the base of the scrum and popped off to Voyce on the burst. Play continued, despite the suspicion of Dallaglio's pass being forward, and the full back found John Hart in support, who offloaded the final pass successfully to Reddan for the score, though King was unable to convert.
Reihana threatened an immediate reply with a characteristic mazy run through traffic from the restart, but a good final tackle from Voyce and poor Saints handling from the breakdown saw the attack break down.
Spencer was the architect of Saints' next attack, looping round to find space and using the quick ball from an ensuing ruck to move the ball wide. Prop Chris Budgen was the man out wide on the overlap, and looked to have made the touchdown, but the referee courted controversy by adjudging him held up and awarding Saints a five metre scrum. Spencer kept the pressure on, moving the ball wide with long passes both left and right, Voyce's deliberate knock on giving Saints another 5 metre scrum but again Wasps defence held firm at close quarters.
Wasps cleared the threat and from midfield Dallaglio and Hart put on pressure, taking the ball up and winning King another penalty attempt. This time, from 42 metres, he successfully slotted the kick for a 14-6 lead after 68 minutes.
Incisive runs from Reihana as the game entered the final ten minutes saw him make ground from out of his own half on several occasions, but good cover defence from Wasps kept him from threatening the try line.
With three minutes remaining, replacement Rhodri Davies ratcheted up the drama. Finding some space on the wing, a nifty step took him past one defender, and he was able to collect a deft chip over the final defender to score, Reihana's conversion bringing Saints back to 13-14 with just 3 minutes remaining on the clock.
From the restart however, Hoadley was up fast to catch Spencer in possession in his own 22. The winger stripped Spencer of possession to cross the line unchallenged, King's conversion taking Wasps away to 21-13 with minutes left.
Saints attacked courageously as the countdown clock ticked down to zero, managing to keep the ball alive for another two minutes of extra time before Wasps won back possession, and rather inexplicably took the ball in to contact several more times before King kicked the ball dead and secure a dramatic win.
Whilst Saints Director of Rugby Budge Pountney was disappointed after the game, Wasps coaching team of McGeechan and Shaun Edwards were pleased with the squad's performance.
'Today was a very important win,' said McGeechan, 'the sort of win that will definitely count when it comes to the final placing at the end of the season.'
Edwards agreed, saying 'Apart from the hiccup in Scotland, we have had a good start to the season. Our young squad players are about 10% better than they were last season, they have really stepped up to the mark.'
Both coaches also praised the opposition. 'Northampton moves us around a lot and played with a lot of width today, and its very easy to get caught out in that situation.' said McGeechan. 'It's a good win for us, though it didn't go quite to plan. We got out of jail two or three times, and I thought our scrambling defence was very good, as they gave us a torrid time for some of the second half.'
Edwards felt 'Northampton played more rugby against us today than any other team this season, including Toulouse. Bruce Reihana is a tremendous returner of kicks and he's got a great step. But, apart from his yellow card, I thought Rob Hoadley was exceptional in defence today - if he can stay injury free he will definitely be pushing for a place in the starting fifteen'
Half Time 6-6
Referee: Rob Debeny