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It was an absorbing match, and nothing like last season's lacklustre 9-9 drawn the equivalent fixture, but at full time Wasps were on the wrong end of a 26-21 scoreline. .
Despite having weathered a torrid first ten minutes, with referee Roy Maybank's whistle ringing in their ears, and ten minutes spanning half time with only 13 men, Wasps did have chances to win this game, but errors in execution and decision making from Wasps in the final quarter meant that Bristol were able to go ahead and stay ahead in a nail biting climax at the Memorial Stadium
Strict refereeing of technicalities in the opening period denied Wasps any continuity in their game. Bristol took an early lead after Shaun Perry's quick tapped penalty took his forwards within five metres, where a rolling maul allowed prop Darren Crompton to trundle over the line for the five points, Jason Strange adding the extras for a 7-0 lead.
The first quarter continued with Bristol playing to the strength of fly half Strange's territorial kicking, and despite both sides claiming line out steals - Dan Leo probably Wasps' stand out player of the first twenty minutes - the home side were able to hog the majority of the possession and territory.
Wasps best period of the game was about to begin however, when Craig Morgan gathered Dave Walder's missed touch kick but sliced his own clearance to give Wasps a line out just inside the Bristol half. A clean take allowed Wasps to move the ball quickly left. Tom Voyce was in the line and outside him Paul Sackey, who had come off his own right flank to take Voyce's pass and the two extra men meant Sackey could charge straight through the outnumbered Bristol midfield from 35 metres out to slide over for Wasps first score, though Walder was off target with the conversion.
Wasps sparked into life and less than five minutes later Sackey was on the score sheet again. Erinle's barrelling run down the middle committed defenders to create an overlap on the right and, despite the attentions of two covering defenders, Sackey was able to reach out from underneath the tackle and plant the ball over the line, Walder's conversion taking Wasps 12-7 ahead.
The lead was short-lived however, as Bristol were quick to equalise with a little bit of magic footwork from sevens specialist David Lemi. A breakdown near the half way did not promise anything for the hosts, and Perry's pass bobbled along the floor past the feet of both centres before Lemi scooped it up and set off, running wide of the diving tackle of Wasps scrum half Eoin Reddan before leaving Sackey for dead with a killer step and sprinting to the corner to record Bristol's second try of the day. Strange's touchline miss kept the sides level at 12-12, but the crowd was starting to simmer, sensing a contest was well and truly on.
Bristol and Lemi were full of attack from the restart and with Wasps defending in their left corner referee Maybank doled out two yellow cards in as many minutes, to Simon Shaw for a high tackle and Peter Bracken for an illegality at a ruck.
To finish that 10 minute spell 3-0 up should have been a good fillip for us, but it we never really settled down to make the most of our opportunities
With Nick Adams on to shore up the scrum, and fly half Dave Walder sacrificed to make way for him, Ayoola Erinle also found himself packing down on the flank as Wasps 13 men re-organised. There were nervous moments before half time as Raphael Ibanez received a warning and Lee Robinson's break down the left gave Bristol a huge overlap, which centre Josh Taumalolo failed to capitalise on, but Wasps survived and could even have gone ahead, though Jeremy Staunton missed a penalty five minutes before half time and both teams went in at the break even at 12 a-piece.
A second opportunity minutes into the second half allowed Staunton to make amends for his earlier miss and take Wasps 12-15 ahead and the visitors were also now back to full strength, with Shaw and Bracken back on the field. However, it was Bristol who were next to threaten as Lemi was first to Strange's chip through into Wasps scoring zone though he couldn't ground the ball. Scrum half Shaun Perry also came close, taking another quick penalty when his side won a penalty from the resultant scrum, but Wasps defence held firm and Walder's boot cleared the danger.
With Ward on for Ibanez and Birkett replacing Shaw, who limped off with a sore knee, Wasp had their chances as the hour approached, but both Tom Voyce and Josh Lewsey were denied by knock ons. Instead it was Bristol who scored to regain the lead courtesy of a Dan Ward Smith try in the 58th minute, following Perry's break down the narrow side from a line out.
There was controversy as the final quarter got under way. Dave Walder's penalty attempt fell short thanks to a gust of wind, and Richard Birkett was quick to react, diving on the ball and sliding over the line as it bounced and bobbled off the post, but referee Maybank adjudged a knock on and the try was disallowed. Little consolation then Walder's next penalty attempt, which did go over minutes later to bring Wasps within one point at 19-18 in the 66th minute.
As the tension grew, a vociferous crowd were enjoying the tussle and well behind their team. Strange's prod through, though too strong for winger Robinson, gave Bristol field position. Their forwards were quick to centre Sam Cox's half break, and quick ball allowed Robinson another run from where his good offload in the tackle opened up the space for Taumalolo to score, Strange's conversion putting 8 points between the teams.
With ten minutes remaining, the penalty decisions were going Wasps way, and with Walder off the pitch, Jeremy Staunton quickly clawed back the first three points. Sackey made good ground into Bristol's half, but with a penalty won in front of the posts, Wasps elected to take a scrum. However, the knock on that followed handed possession back to Bristol, and Strange ran down the clock by keeping play firmly in the Wasps half and thus secured victory for his team, 26-21 at full time.
'It's a game we should have won,' said Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan afterwards, 'but we weren't patient enough in our execution. After we had ridden the storm of penalties in the first 20 minutes, when I thought we were going to struggle, and come through from a period with 13 men, which we came out of 3-0 up, we got back to 15 men but then didn't execute as well as we should have done.'
Talking about being down to 13 men, McGeechan said, 'Tactically we made the decision to go with 7 forwards and 6 backs, and I though we played with a fair intent there. To finish that 10 minute spell 3-0 up should have been a good fillip for us, but it seemed to be a fractured game and we never really settled down to make the most of our opportunities late on in the second half.'
Head Coach Shaun Edwards acknowledged there is work to be done in defensive areas also.
'Bristol scored three tries from working our short side. They have some good ball carriers and you have to give credit to Lemi, he's a fantastic little player, but our success in the past has been built on a strong defence, and letting four tries in doesn't equate to a strong defence, so we need to improve that part of our game.'