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It was a thrilling climax to an entertaining game, but not the result Wasps supporters wanted to see, as Worcester Warriors staged a late comeback to snatch a 24-24 draw at Sixways on Saturday evening.
Wasps had opened up a 10-24 lead midway through the second half, thanks to tries from Pat Barnard and James Haskell plus penalties from Danny Cipriani and Dave Walder, but the home side refused to concede defeat and fought back with alacrity in the final quarter. Their efforts were rewarded with tries for Kai Horstmann and Dominic Feaunati in the 70th and 75th minutes that drew Worcester level.
Wasps chance to grab a last gasp victory came with Dave Walder's drop goal attempt with seconds left on the clock, but Walder dragged his kick wide of the posts and the whistle blew to end the contest honours even.
Warriors had ended as they had begun. Winger Marcel Garvey got them on the board after just four minutes, following fly half James Brown's chip over the midfield which had put Wasps on the back foot. Worcester's backs then sent the ball wide to Garvey on the right, who then put in a well weighted grubber kick back towards the posts and won the race to touch the ball down for his side's first score.
Garvey continued to look lively as Worcester enjoyed more possession and attacked with confidence, though full back Shane Drahm missed a penalty after seven minutes to extend the Warriors lead.
After fifteen minutes of Worcester, Wasps finally got some possession and established their attacking credentials.A strong attack down the right flank, involving Danny Cipriani, Dominic Waldouck and Tom Voyce resulted in a penalty opportunity for Cipriani, who successfully bisected the posts to bring Wasps back to7-3.Five minutes later Pat Barnard added to Wasps haul, driven over from close quarters after Fraser Waters had made the initial line break, to edge the visitors ahead, Cipriani adding the extras to give his side a 7-10 lead.
Wasps continued to dominate for much of the rest of the half. Dave Walder took over the kicking duties from Cipriani, and added two more penalties before the half hour, whilst Worcester lost flanker Tom Wood to the sin bin after 32 minutes for taking out Wasps lock Richard Birkett in a line out.
Worcester enjoyed a good spell before the break though, winning penalties that allowed them to kick their way up to Wasps try line for a five metre line out, but excellent defensive work from the Wasps pack denied the home side a score before the turn around.
The second half began with an exchange of penalties by Walder and Drahm, but it was Wasps who looked the stronger, and extended their lead thanks to the physicality of James Haskell. Following a line out steal, Haskell surged into the Worcester 22, setting up the platform for the backs to attack right, which created an overlap on the left that unfortunately they could not capitalise on. However, Worcester's cover defence had knocked on, and from the attacking scrum Haskell picked up and was driven over by the supporting pack to give Wasps a 10-24 lead - Walder unable to slot the difficult conversion.
As the game approached the final quarter, both sides looked to the bench, with Worcester notably bringing on 22 stone flanker Gavin Quinnell to add weight to their attack. The 'give it to Gavin' tactics tested Wasps defensive tackling, and sucked inenough players to create space for centre Mark Tucker to have a go up the right touchline which won Worcester an attacking five metre scrum.
Worcester's set piece, traditionally the cornerstone that had held them in good stead over the past three seasons, had already been challenged by Wasps in this game. The forwards out performed Worcester at the line out and also asked them questions at scrum time. However, the Warriors fancied their chances at the five metre push over, but despite referee Rob Debney gave them four chances to drive the ball over, and with the crowd roaring for a penalty try, it was Wasps who won the final penalty and cleared their lines.
Worcester, however, were not to be denied, and replacement centre Dominic Feaunati was the key man for them in the last ten minutes of the game.His break into the twenty two gave Warriors the platform for an intense period of attack. Wasps defence was magnificent, with Mark McMillan, Haskell, Richard Birkett and Tom Palmer all contributing try saving tackles as Worcester moved the ball well from one wing to the other. Despite their best efforts though, the Wasps defence was finally overstretched and Kai Horstmann was able to dive over in the corner for a well deserved score.
With the crowd behind them and their tails up, Worcester came again from the restart. Tom Voyce came close to an intercept pass as the Warriors looked to get the ball wide, but his miss was Marcel Garvey's gain, as he gathered the loose ball and set off, offloading to replacement hooker Ben Gotting, who looked like he might score against his old club as he galloped into the twenty two and approached the line before being caught by Wasps recovering defence. With Wasps in disarray Worcester pushed on, but an aimless kick to the corner from Pat Sanderson rolled into touch and gave Wasps a reprieve.
It did not last long, as Feaunati came on the charge again, crashing over in the corner in the 75th minute to draw his side level.
With five minutes remaining, Wasps received kick off and attacked with purpose. Simon Amor combined well with Voyce to make ground on the left. They looked to have lost their chance though, when Worcester counter rucked to turn the ball over, but the ball squirted out of the side of the ruck and Voyce was on hand to scoop it up and jink into the twenty two. With Worcester retreating Wasps came again, and James Haskell looked to have broken through, but though Warriors' defence couldn't hold on to him they did dislodge the ball to win back possession and a scrum in front of their posts.
However, Wasps were able to disrupt the Warriors drive and win back the put in for one final attack. Fly half Walder dropped back, but unfortunately dragged his drop goal attempt wide of the posts. It was the last act of the match, and Wasps had to settle for shared honours.
Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan acknowledged that it was a game Wasps should have won, but also pointed out the positives in his young team's performance:
'It was a game we let go. We started slowly and gave a soft try away but I thought for the next hour we were the comfortably better team. At 24-10, another three points and the game would have been over, but we didn't have much of the ball for the next fifteen minutes and we weren't quite clever enough when we got it back to take the sting out of the game.
'To be fair to Worcester they didn't make a lot of errors and we did give them some easy runs back at the end, but for the first hour I thought we played really well. I felt our running game was very good and we made big in roads every time we attacked We were creating a lot of space and that was a pleasing thing.
'But we should have won. We gave ourselves another chance at the end, but unfortunately Dave Walder's execution wasn't quite there. I think he might have been in two minds to keep the ball in hand, which just meant he wasn't quite set for a drop goal and had to make a quicker decision than he probably wanted.
Head Coach Shaun Edwards said:
'For most of the game our defence was an improvement on last week, but I thought the impact of their bench was the difference between the teams in those last ten minutes. We had more front rowers on our bench, because we don't have the players available to us at the moment and that difference showed in the end.'
Referee: Rob Debney
Man of the Match: Pat Sanderson