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Match Report
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16 Feb 2008: Wasps v Bath Rugby

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Match Report
Bath's Badge Bath Rugby 34
Wasps's Badge Wasps 42
Fixture Type: Guinness Premiership Venue: Recreation Ground
Match Date: Sat 16 Feb 2008, Kick Off: 14:45
Referee: Rob Debney Touch Judge: Peter Huckle
Touch Judge: Bob Mullis

Wasps keep play-off hopes alive

McGeechan's men shatter Bath's 16 month home record and pick up an invaluable bonus point in a fabulous game at The Rec

Dominic Waldouck again stretches the Bath defence

Dominic Waldouck again stretches the Bath defence

'The tie of the weekend' trumpeted the SKY commentary team in the build up to this match at The Rec. A 'make or break' game for Wasps said Head Coach, Shaun Edwards as kick off approached. Eighty minutes later both teams had delivered an absolute cracker of a game, the SKY pundits were lauding 'the best game of the season to date' and though both teams had claimed a try bonus in a nine try display, it was Bath who were reflecting on a loss ' their first at The Rec since November 2006.

For the Londoners, defeat would have pretty much put paid to any chances of reaching the top four in the Guinness Premiership by May, and with Bath openly expressing their ambition to hammer a nail into the Wasps play-off coffin, the pressure before this game had been well and truly on McGeechan's men. And the blue, black and white hammer seemed to be hovering ominously when Bath scored on the stroke of half time for a 20-13 lead, but Wasps hit back with a 15 minute flurry at the start of the second half that had Bath reeling from the blows as three beautifully crafted tries opened up a lead that proved decisive.

Neither team had achieved an away win in this fixture since Bath's win at Adams Park in January 2005 and though both sides had their international players back at their disposal for this game, Wasps were hit by a late injury blow when uber-finisher Paul Sackey failed a fitness test on the morning of the game.

His place on the wing was taken by Rob Hoadley, but within 20 minutes of kick off Hoadley himself was limping towards the bench, replaced on the wing by Mark Van Gisbergen.

Cipriani gathers on his way to scoring Wasps' opening try

Cipriani gathers on his way to scoring Wasps' opening try

Bath themselves were without play-making fly half, Butch James and former captain Steve Borthwick, both injured, but were making light of their missing men as they opened up a 10-3 lead after just 12 minutes. Their opening try was fortunate in its conclusion ' Andrew Higgins pass bouncing off Tom Palmer and back into the Bath man's hands for a simple sprint to the line ' but Director of Rugby Steve Meehan had clearly been doing his homework on the Wasps rush defence to open up the initial space. With Bath's centres pulling the Wasps midfield back towards the touchline in a clearly planned move, Higgins came off his wing and into the open space left by the Wasps defence to break clean through before the fortunate ricochet off Palmer handed him back the ball to score.

At 10-0 it was time for a little touch of Cipriani magic. Warming up with a penalty to get Wasps off the mark, he then executed a perfect chip and chase before brushing off the tackle of full back Nick Abendanon and powering to the line.

It was a breathless first fifteen minutes, proving this was clearly game on, but though both sides continued to play positive rugby to keep the crowd entertained, there was no further try until the stroke of half time. A Barkley kick gave Bath excellent position at an attacking scrum which they did not squander, and Abendanon was able to make amends for his earlier missed tackle by wriggling over after good approach by captain Alex Crockett.

Haskell heads for the try line early in the second half

Haskell heads for the try line early in the second half

Then, as the second half commenced, Wasps turned the tables on their hosts. Stepping up the tempo, Mark McMillan bustled behind his pack, the backs danced and darted and when Haskell came onto the ball late with what is becoming his trademark charge off the shoulder, Bath could not get a hand to him as he charged to the line. A perfect start to the half, but there was more to come. With Haskell again on the charge, the blossoming Doherty looped round from left wing to right to make the extra man and provide space for Josh Lewsey to go around the outside and score.

A penalty from Cipriani in the 50th minute gave Wasps an eight point cushion at 20-28 ahead, and shortly after Wasps were at it again. Nifty Waldouck footwork foxed the Bath midfield and Haskell was on hand to launch a reprise, standing up strongly in the tackle before Doherty once more looped around and Lewsey again took the outside lane to the try line.

At 20-35 it could have been all over, but Bath are full of confidence after a good start to the season and threw everything they had at Wasps for the final half an hour. Meehan employed his heavyweight south sea bench to good effect, and Wasps were forced to work hard in defence to protect what, in other circumstances, may have proved an unassailable lead. However, though Bath could never capitalise on the mismatch of the diminutive Van Gisbergen versus giant Matt Banahan on the wing, the path down the middle paid more dividends as the physicality of replacement No8 Jonanthan Faamatuanui and centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu served up two more tries to Wasps one, courtesy of a Dan Leo touch down from close quarters. Bath were back to within eight points, and against a lesser team may have come back to win, but against a lesser team, Wasps would not have been troubled in the final quarter.

Josh Lewsey reaches out to score

Josh Lewsey reaches out to score

As it was, after a first half in which possession and territory had been fairly even, Bath had enjoyed the lions share of territory and possession for the majority of the second forty. However, the physicality of their attack was ultimately outweighed by the more dynamic, precise brand of rugby served up by Wasps in those opening minutes of the second half. Indeed, Bath enjoyed 20 phases of possession in the final minutes of the game, they were playing in their own 22, and when Barkley finally went for a chip over the top with the clock on zero, Wasps replacement scrum-half Eoin Reddan made no mistake in leathering the ball to touch to seal the win.

Result aside, the performance was additionally encouraging for several reasons. Joe Worsley returned from a wretched three and half months of injury and had a good day at the office, carrying strongly in attack and as ever tackling his heart out in defence. Tim Payne and Phil Vickery got through a formidable amount of work against a heavier Bath pack, and in the absence of Dallaglio, John Hart picked up the captain's armband with aplomb, anchoring the scrum and the team throughout the eighty minutes.

Dominic Waldouck with his Man of the Match Award

Dominic Waldouck with his Man of the Match Award

Behind the pack, Mark McMillan looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying himself, and is proving himself to be an excellent alternative to Eoin Reddan in the No9 shirt, David Doherty went looking for work with excellent results, and Josh Lewsey continued to make a nonsense of his non-selection for England. Finally, Dominic Waldouck thoroughly deserved his Man of the Match award. Back in his favoured position of centre, Waldouck is returning to the sort of form that was making the pundits sit up last season, with footwork that opens up gaps in the opposition defence and the distribution skills to send his team-mates through those gaps.

Though Head Coach Edwards admitted after the game that a bonus point win did not feature in Wasps expectations from this match, he was nevertheless delighted with the result.

'This was in effect a play off game for us today. In the past we've shown that without a shadow of a doubt we are at our best in that sort of situation, and we proved it again today.

'The quality of the defence from both sides wasn't great at times, and we'll both want to go away and work on that, but I thought our attack was magnificent. Bath also played an exceptional game in attack, but going downhill in the second half I thought our backs combined superbly.'

Use the gallery tab at the top of this page to see more pictures from the game