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On the day that Wasps honoured their recently retired scrumhalf Rob Howley, who led the team out at the Causeway stadium, the team stuttered to victory over a resilient NEC Harlequins.
With Lawrence Dallaglio, Mark Van Gisbergen, Richard Birkett, Jonny O’Connor and Tim Payne returning to the side after last weekend’s Heineken Cup victory over Calvisano, the Black and Gold Army maintained their seven-match winning run. Wasps ran in a single Tom Voyce try on the way to a hard fought 19-16 victory.
Immediate pressure from the kick-off resulted in the fastest try in Zurich Premiership history when Voyce touched down under the posts after just 9.63 seconds. Will Greenwood failed to take a seemingly simple catch, in what was the first play of the match. Van Gisbergen converted under the posts for an early 7-point lead.
Early Wasps’ pressure was rebuffed by Quins who went close with a number of attacks of their own. Quins managed to build up some pressure resulting in two successful penalty kicks from Jeremy Staunton in the opening 17 minutes.
Quins further dominated possession after Wasps were temporarily reduced to 14 men. Simon Shaw was sent to the sin bin for handling in the ruck after 18 minutes.
Wasps, to their credit, managed to smother any good play from Quins, who were attempting to stretch the play to the wings.
Quins were then gifted a try of their own when Voyce miskicked a clearance straight to the Quins’ backs. A perfect bounce and one quick pass set Will Greenwood away for an easy score. Staunton slotted the conversion neatly, from the left side of the posts, to put Quins 13-7 up.
Wasps seemed to settle into the game after Shaw returned to the action. The subsequent sin binning of Quins’ captain Andre Vos also helped matters. A Van Gisbergen’s penalty kick cut the deficit to 3 points, with the scores now at 10-13.
Warren Gatland’s men were unable to truly make their pressure tell with the man advantage, being guilty of a series of handling errors. Wasps went into the interval with it all to do in the second period.
Mark Lock replaced the injured Joe Worsley, suffering from a dead leg, at the break. Wasps signalled their intensions early on after the re-start, recycling the play in and around the Quins’ 22. From a resulting penalty Van Gisbergen levelled the scores 8 minutes from the restart.
Phil Greening was replaced by Leota on 49 minutes.
Voyce almost made up for his earlier kicking mistake with a stunning, darting run. Passing two Quins’ players, he was only just stopped from scoring in the corner. Quins held strong, bundling Lewsey over the touchline just a few meters from the line.
A successful blind-side move from a loose ruck resulted in George Harder taking his place in the sin bin and the lead being restored to Wasps, courtesy of a penalty and Van Gisbergen’s trusty right boot.
Staunton managed to level up the scores with a drop goal. This served to stun Wasps back into action and another penalty from Van Gisbergen restored the lead to the home team.
Harder then found himself in the centre position for Quins and was able to blast his way towards the line. Only last gasp defending enabled Wasps to keep themselves ahead in the contest. After a last few nervous minutes for the home side, they finally held out for a 19-16 win.
Fortunately for Wasps, Quins were unable to avenge last seasons close fought 22 &ndash 21 defeat to their local rivals. This win and four points takes Wasps on to 27 points in the Zurich Premiership.
Gatland said: “It wasn’t the night to play a lot of rugby. We went out and tried, but at times the ball was too slow and we probably needed to kick a bit more. The intension was to play some rugby, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
“There’s no guaranteed position in the side at the moment, which we are delighted about. Our younger players are really snapping at our more experienced player’s heels.
“We have two really important weeks coming up for us. If we can pick two wins up that will set our season up nicely.
London Wasps scorers:
Con: Van Gisbergen
Pen: Van Gisbergen 4
NEC Harlequins scorers:
Pen: Staunton 2
Van Gisbergen: Con O, Pen x, Pen O, Pen O, Pen O, Pen O
Staunton: Pen O, Pen x, Pen O, Con O.
Man of Match: Van Gisbergen
Referee: Dave Pearson