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Following a good win at the Stoop last week, a London Wasps team still shorn of seven senior international players fought hard but were ultimately their own worst enemies as they went down 16-13 to London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
The Exiles had by far the lion's share of territory and possession for much of the game, as Wasps fell into an old habit of failing to look after the ball when they had it. Despite this, the Irish were only seven points ahead at half time, Topsy Ojo's try in the 26th minute the difference between the teams.
Though both sides started the game in lively fashion the home side, with greater possession from the outset, played the more penetrating game, fly half Barry Everitt and centre Seilala Mapasua making space for the Exiles pacy wingers Sailosi Tagicakibau and Topsy Ojo. Everitt's mixture of passing, cross kicks and some good territorial kicking kept Wasps pinned back in their own 22 for long periods.
However, the Wasps defence was unremitting and as the half progressed the Exiles attack became increasingly lateral. On several occasions, Everitt's boot supplied his forwards with a line out on the Wasps line, and each time the Exiles drive for the line was contained by the Wasps defence.
The home side's try came from a more expansive attack as Topsy Ojo, who had been finding gaps with some good angled runs on the first quarter, capitalised on unexpected possession after his forwards stole a Wasps line out centre field. Cutting a diagonal back towards the touchline he rolled out of Mark Van Gisbergen's tackle before racing to the corner for the score.
Van Gisbergen replied with three points to get Wasps off the mark before the turn around, to match Everitt's 14th minute penalty for the Exiles after he had missed his first attempt early in the game.Wasps came alive briefly at the start of the second half, and made their try, scored by Academy speedster Chris Bishay, look ridiculously simple.
The score came after Alex King had tried a hopeful drop goal. Riki Flutey, collecting the bobbling ball, failed to find touch and Mark Van Gisbergen set off on the counter attack. King was on hand from the breakdown to move the ball quickly, via Josh Lewsey to Bishay who, finding himself one on one with opposite number Tagicakibau, backed himself to go stand up his opposite number and go round the outside if him to run in a simple touchdown near the posts.
With the scores tied at 10-10, Wasps followed up with a flurry of further attacks on the Exiles line, but the only scores came from the boot, as Van Gisbergen and Flutey exchanged penalties in the 49th and 53rd minute.
With the game there for the taking, Wasps unfortunately slipped back into playing without the ball for the final quarter, but once again London Irish could not capitalise on the amount of ball and field position that they were given.
With the score tied at 13-13, Wasps must have thought they had got out of jail as London Irish failed to score from a gilt edged chance. Centre Seilala Mapasua showed good skill in chipping and collecting his own kick down the touchline before offloading to replacement Juan Leguizamon on his shoulder. The Argentinian international back rower ran in unopposed, and with an exuberant dive. Unfortunately, he spilled the ball on the way to the ground, and the try was not given.
With five minutes to go, referee Rob Debney's penalty against Simon Shaw in the line out for taking out a player in the air, was the decisive moment of the final quarter and allowed Riki Flutey to kick the three points that won the game for his team.
The decision was contentious, with lock Nick Kennedy appearing to land firmly on the ground before Shaw made his move, but the decision stood and set up a tense final five minutes for the record 22,648 crowd.
Wasps ploughed forward, despite being a man down after Jonny O'Connor had been sent to the sin bin for an offside offence that led to the contentious lineout, and replacement backs Ayoola Erinle and Danny Cipriani both made yardage into the Exiles 22. However, with second left on the clock the referee's decision once again went against the visitors, and London Irish were able to run down the clock and round off the St Patrick's weekend celebrations with a win.Director of Rugby, Ian McGeechan commended his players for their work rate after the game, and the defensive work that they put in to contain the Exiles throughout the 80 minutes.
'There's a lot of credit due to the men who played today: their attitude this afternoon and last week has been superb. We've given opportunities to younger players and they have made training and selection very competitive in the last few weeks.
We are disappointed we didn't get a win today though. Playing with significant numbers of player missing during the international period we've had to crack down and work hard, and that's what we've done.
'London Irish played very well first half, and unfortunately we gave them too much ball to play with and made it a bit too easy for them. Maybe, in the end, it was a harsh penalty that won the game for them, but I thought the players' attitude was superb. However, we gave too much ball away and you can't do that and be effective.'