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Wasps held on for a hard fought and physical 19-14 win over a determined and capable Worcester side at Adams Park on Sunday.
Worcester's performance belied their title of Premiership basement dwellers, and after the game Ian McGeechan called it a game of chalk and cheese, notable for the dominance of one side in each half.
Worcester's superiority in the set piece in the first half ensured that they dominated in terms of possession and field position, but Wasps change of tactics after the interval saw them attack the breakdown and raise their forwards game, taking on Worcester where they were strongest and coming out on top to take the game.
It was a valuable four points, and puts Wasps back into third place in the table, though Gloucester, in fourth, still have a game in hand following their postponed game on Boxing Day.
In wet conditions Adams Park, neither side played freely, but Wasps trailed for much of the first half following Shane Drahm's drop goal in the 15th minute from a neat rehearsed move behind the breakdown.
It remained at 3-0 until first half injury time. Wasps best chance came when Peter Bracken got his hands on loose ball from a line out, flipping it up to scrum half Eoin Reddan who, from well inside his own half, kicked ahead and put pressure on the Worcester back three on their try line. However, the pressure fizzled out when Wasps knocked on, allowing the Warriors to clear their lines.
The home side were still clearly confident however, and five minutes from the end of the half Alex King shunned the chance of three points to kick for the corner. Unfortunately the subsequent quick line out came to nothing, but as Cipriani collected the clearance and counter attacked, Worcester conceded another penalty in the centre of the field which King converted to level things at 3-3 with half time at hand.
Not to be out done, Cipriani's opposite number Drahm launched a fine counter attack of his own in injury time to set up Kai Horstmann for Worcester's try. Collecting a high ball inside his own half, Drahm stepped through Wasps advancing defence line and the space opened up for him to sprint into the 22. There he drew the covering Cipriani and lofted a long ball wide to Horstmann waiting on the right flank, who was able to take the pass despite Tom Voyce's efforts to get a hand to it, and slide in for the score, giving Worcester a 8-3 lead at half time.However, Wasps came out for the second half looking determined, and a good passage of play from the pack took them well into Worcester territory. As Dallaglio and co went through the phases the Warriors defence were drawn in, allowing King to feed Cipriani, who evaded the drift defence to bounce over and equalise. King's successful conversion took Wasps ahead for the first time in the game.
Wasps also had the better of the next ten minutes, and when Chris Fortey was sin-binned in the 50th minute for lying on the ball, King increased the lead to 13-8.
Breaks from Rees and Reddan in the final quarter kept the Wasps faithful hopeful of another score. In the Reddan's case, his nice break around the fringe and offload sent Dallaglio over the line, but the pass was forward and the try disallowed.
Two further penalties from King, who made a flawless return of 5 from 5 with the boot, against one from Drahm allowed Wasp to keep the visitors at arms length, though a late burst from the Warriors full back could have turned the result, had not replacement Josh Lewsey's solid tackle forced Worcester scrum half Matt Powell to spill the ball metres from the line.
After the game, McGeechan acknowledged Worcester's dominance of the first half, but praised his players for the successful change of tactics after the interval.
'In the first half we had no ball to play with, as a result of their set piece dominance, so we had to adjust our game. But in the second half we took more control of scrums and line-outs and took their game away from them. We needed to score quickly after half time, and we took our chance well. As a result we were a lot more comfortable in the second half. We didn't try anything fancy but we played the game at a higher tempo, which suited us.
On the performance of his captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, McGeechan was also positive. 'Lawrence's performance was definitely a step up today. He was strong in defence and carrying the ball better in attack too.'
Referee: Tony Spreadbury
MOTM: Danny Cipriani