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London Wasps arrived at Welford Road on the back of four consecutive wins, two of them away from home, while the Leicester Tigers greeted their fans on the back of five consecutive defeats. Wasps knew they would be facing a side in desperate need of a win.
It didn’t take long for the first points of the game to be scored and they came via the boot of Tigers’ flyhalf, Ramiro Pez. The little Argentinian-born Italian international made no mistake with his first two penalty attempts of the afternoon and quickly opened a six-point lead. Moments later, the home side crossed for the first try of the match. It was a simple lineout, catch and drive movement that saw hooker, Jim Richards score the five pointer. Pez completed the conversion and after only 12 minutes, Wasps found themselves 13-0 down.
The stadium roared the home side on and with their tails up, Tigers came looking for more points. Strong runs up the middle and a number of highball kicks that tested fullback Tom Voyce were what the Wasps defence had to deal with. In fairness Wasps dealt with the barrage of attacks very well and simply sat back and waited for the mistakes to come. Within the space of eight minutes, Wasps pulled the score back to 13-9. The Tigers gave away four penalties and flyhalf Mark Van Gisbergen duly landed three of the four.
However, as soon as Wasps got back into the game, Tigers stretched it. Tigers’ second try came from what was originally a missed penalty from Pez. The penalty was missed and was cleared from the Wasps lines. Tigers somehow recycled the ball, which saw their captain, Josh Kronfeld, chip the ball over the Wasps’ backline, allowing winger, Neil Baxter, to score the home side’s second try. Pez made no mistake with the conversion and it was 20-9.
Approaching halftime, Van Gisbergen landed another two penalties, while Pez another one. It was a frustrating first half, as no sooner had Wasps got back into the game, Tigers counterpunched and scored with a soft try by Baxter and the boot of Pez. Rob Howley led the side in 23-15 down knowing they had 40 minutes to pull something out the bag.
The second half started similar to how the first half had stopped, and that was with penalties. Pez landed his fourth of the afternoon, missed with the fifth but an Austin Healey dropgoal close to the halfway line, saw the Tigers stretch the lead to 29-15.
At this stage of the game the writing was on the wall that Wasps would need something special and a little bit of luck to steal the win. Things got worse when Richard Birkett left the field injured, being replaced by George Skivington. At the post-match press conference, Warren Gatland said his injury was not serious and it was just precautionary that he was brought off.
Three-quarters into the game, Gatland brought on Trevor Leota and James Haskell for Phil Greening and Paul Volley respectively. Leota’s impact was immediate and he started to punch holes into the Tigers’ pack and within a few minutes Wasps found themselves on the front foot and went looking for the try. It came via centre, Mark Denney. The forwards drove the Tigers back, the ball went out to Fraser Waters who split the defence, but was brought down before the tryline. The ball was then recycled out to Van Gisbergen who flipped the ball over his head and into Denney’s hands, who crossed in the corner. Van Gisbergen landed the difficult conversion to make it 29-22 and all of a sudden Wasps found themselves within touching distance of a draw and possibly the win.
It was a tense final few minutes, but Wasps gave away a penalty and Pez slotted his fifth of the day to make it 32-22. Van Gisbergen had an opportunity to secure a bonus point with a late penalty, but unfortunately missed.
The game was lost, but after four consecutive wins, the team is still well placed in the top half of the league. Wasps’ next game is this Sunday against the Bristol Shoguns in the Powergen Cup. They will then face Gloucester the following Friday night at the Causeway Stadium, in a game that to any Wasps or Cherry and White fan, needs no explaining.