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London derbies are always a great show for rugby and Saturday’s first league game for Wasps at The Stoop was no exception. A near capacity crowd saw the Wasps take on the only side they failed to beat last season, NEC Harlequins.
The sides ran out to perfect conditions and it was Harlequins who had the early chance of putting points on the board. Paul Burke had a penalty on the 22m line but missed with his first attempt of the day.
Wasps gained control and it didn’t take long before fullback Tom Voyce made an impact. A deep kick from the former Bath man allowed winger Shane Rosier the chance to put pressure amongst the Harlequins backs and set up Voyce for the first try of the match. Roiser collected the ball, charged towards the tryline and neatly laid off to Voyce who crossed over. Flyhalf Mark Van Gisbergen made no mistake with the conversion and Wasps took a 7-nil lead.
It wasn’t long before Burke had his second attempt at goal. Wasps were caught offside and the flyhalf made no mistake. The restart from Van Gisbergen was deep and Harlequins winger, Ugo Monye found himself on the wrong end of a John Rudd tackle. Rudd flattened him and the referee Dave Pearson awarded Wasps the penalty for the home side not releasing the ball fast enough from the ruck. Van Gisbergen added the three points to make the score 3-10.
A drop goal by Burke in the 11th-minute closed the gap to four points. However moments later referee Pearson sent Harlequins hooker Ace Tiatia to the sin bin for ten minutes, and Van Gisbergen once against stretched the lead to 6-13 with the resulting penalty.
In the 25th minute, history was made as the first Television Match Official (TMO) was called in for the first time to make a decision during a Zurich Premiership game. A Rob Howley break saw him find space amongst the defence. The scrumhalf laid off to hooker Phil Greening and the bald warrior was driven over the line. Unfortunately, the TMO ruled that Greening did not ground the ball properly and no try was awarded. However, the hooker was adamant that he had scored.
In the 27th minute, Van Gisbergen stretched the lead to ten points when Harlequins were penalised for hands in the ruck. The New Zealander was on song and took the score to 6-16. Approaching half time, Wasps looked in control and when Mark Denney was high tackled by Monye, the resulting penalty took Wasps into a handy 6-19 lead.
Wasps looked to be heading into the break with a good lead, but ten points into injury time allowed the home side back into the match. A penalty by Burke and then a try by Monye brought Harlequins back into the game, and with the flyhalf making no mistake with the conversion, Mark Evans’s side surprisingly found themselves only 16-19 down at half-time.
All the hard work by Wasps was undone by the late try. Ironically, Monye scored a similar try last season that saw the undoing of Wasps.
The second half began with Wasps looking to push on and put some much needed points on the board. Wasps went hunting for the try but it just never seemed to work. To Harlequins’ credit their defence held out the Wasps attack. The only way the home side were going to score would be from the break, which came in the 47th minute. A scrum from deep within their own half saw Evans’s side run the ball into the Wasps’ 22m zone. Andy Dunne was on hand to score their second try and with Burke adding the conversion to make it 23-19, Harlequins took the lead for the first time in the match.
Wasps hit back in the 50th minute when a Fraser Waters’s break saw the centre slice the Harlequins defence apart. Waters chipped the ball ahead and Roiser raced for the line. The wing did well to collect the ball and score Wasps’ second try. The TMO was once again called in to make the decision but it was always going to be a try. Unfortunately, Van Gisbergen missed the conversion but Wasps still led by one point, 23-24.
Harlequins, however, once again took the lead when Burke added another penalty.
With 13 minutes to go Gatland made his first substitution with Mark Lock coming on for the young James Haskell. Van Gisbergen unfortunately missed another penalty and with Harlequins leading 26-24 it was game on.
Ugo Monye scored his 2nd try with a break from the halfway line and with Burke adding the conversion; it was game over for Wasps. Van Gisbergen added an injury time penalty to earn a bonus point but Harlequins ran out 33-27 winners.
In all it was a disappointing start for the Black and Gold Army, as it was a game that Wasps dominated and should have won.