Please note the change of date for this game, all tickets previously purchased are valid for the rescheduled match..
After having won an unbelievable 11 games in a row, Saturday’s 21-25 loss to the NEC Harlequins brought Wasps back down to earth in front of a packed Adams Park.
All good things come to an end and thankfully that end came with this game, and not one of the two still to come. The loss was very disappointing but the bottom line is, Wasps are second in the league, and have secured a Zurich Premiership home semi-final game against the Northampton Saints and a date with Bath in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final.
Harlequins are the only side Wasps have failed to beat this season and so remains the one blemish on what is a good season.
As the sides ran out, the rain came down and once again spoilt what should have been a good game of rugby. Wasps knew a draw would be good enough to secure a home semi-final but went out looking for another win.
Harlequins made their intentions clear from early on when Paul Burke nearly landed a drop-goal attempt in the first minute. However, minutes later Wasps were penalised for being offside and Burke landed his first penalty of the day. That penalty was the closest Harlequins got into the Wasps’ half of the field, as Lawrence Dallaglio and his side camped well within their half for the vast majority of the first half. Lock, Simon Shaw and wing, Josh Lewsey, came agonisingly close to securing a try but some solid Harlequins defence kept them out.
Wasps kept pushing for a try and after what looked like a board meeting along the 22m line between Dallaglio, Craig Dowd, Simon Shaw and a few others, it was decided not to kick at goal and go for the try. Alex King looked to be kicking the ball into touch but instead passed to Shaw who drove for the line. The big lock was held up but Harlequins could not stop Craig Dowd going over for his 8th try of the season. King made no mistake with the conversion and the home side lead 7-3 after 24 minutes.
Wasps continued their attack at Harlequins but somehow were kept out. However, when Harlequins’ centre, Chris Bell, played the ball along the ground from an offside position, and referee Steve Leyshon gave him a yellow card, it looked as if Wasps would move up a gear and go for the jugular. King landed the penalty to take the score to 10-3 with only a few minutes left in the first half.
The turning point of the game came just before the break when Harlequins’ wing Ugo Monye, scored a good individual try. It started when Burke kicked a high ball that seemed to hang in the air forever and as it came down Monye collected it, escaped the clutches of Mark Van Gisbergen and Richard Birkett and ran in to score. The try was totally against the run of play and took everyone by surprise. Burke missed the conversion and Wasps walked off the field wondering how they could only be leading 10-8 after having so much possession.
Every Wasps supporter thought the side would come out and get going during the second half, and at times it did. When the ball was pushed down the backline to Fraser Waters, the centre went through a gap and fed the ball to Kenny Logan. Logan was not going to be caught with his speed and dived over to score Wasps’ second try. It was a well-worked move, created by Waters and finished off by Logan. King missed the conversion by the home side stretched the lead to 15-8. Things got better for Wasps when Harlequins were penalised for being offside and when King landed the penalty to take the score to 18-8, it looked as if Harlequins would fade away.
Wasps were leading but had still not moved into top gear. The visitors new that if they scored another try, they would be back into the game and they did. Tani Fuga broke free and it was only Van Gisbergen left to bring the big forward down. Van Gisbergen kept his nerve and brought the big hooker down, however scrumhalf Matthew Powell was on hand to pick up and score under the posts. With Burke’s conversion, Harlequins now only trailed 18-15.
With that try scored, Warren Gatland made some replacements, but once again Harlequins came back and took the lead when Monye scored his second try of the day. Burke converted and Wasps knew they were in some bother at 18-22 down.
King brought them within one point with another penalty in the 68th minute, but when Burke landed a drop-goal five minutes from the end, it was all over at 21-25. Wasps threw everything at Harlequins but to no avail. They held on for the remainder of the match and inflicted Wasps’ first defeat in 12 games.
Gatland said after the game, “I’m pretty pissed off. We had enough ball in the first half to win the game, however, Quins stuck to it and credit to them - they deserved to win the game. We have no excuses. It was a good wake up call for us. We have seven days to get it right before we face Northampton, which will be a very tough game. We tend to perform and play better on the big occasions and against better teams.
It’s these words the side will take into the week before facing the powerful Northampton on Saturday.