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It’s two defeats out of two for Wasps, after a last-minute Worcester penalty stole a game which the Guinness Premiership champions could, and should, have made safe long before that fateful final kick, in the 11th minute of injury time. A losing bonus point will be scant consolation, after a performance which, though better than the opening weekend’s defeat against London Irish, was still far short of the Wasps standard.
To add to their woes, Wasps lost both skipper Raphael Ibanez and veteran lock, Simon Shaw, to injuries. Ibanez had taking some heavy knocks and Shaw suffered a thigh strain.
The Wasps lineup included Dave Walder, making a welcome come back, five months after a fracture dislocation (against the same opposition) had brought his season to a cruel end. Sadly for Walder and the side, returning to Adams Park for the first time this season it was to be no fairytale return.
Straight from kick off Worcester won possession and attacked down the left where new signing, Chris Latham, took play deep into the 22 before a knock on ended a threatening move. Wasps won the ensuing scrum, but immediately conceded possession through an accidental offside. Eoin Reddan then did well to steal Worcester ball before sending a kick downfield which was knocked on to set up a Wasps scrum. Building momentum, Josh Lewsey came into the line down the right before the ball was recycled and moved back to the left, where Walder’s long pass sent Dominic Waldouck into the visitors 22. However the home side were then penalised at the breakdown and Worcester had the chance to clear the danger.
Wasps had their first scoring chance when Paul Sackey fielded a clearance kick and counterattacked to just outside the 22 setting up a 35-metre drop at goal for Walder, however the kick was off target for the returning fly half. Wasps then strung together their first sustained move of the game with the forwards taking it through several phases before Riki Flutey found some space down the left, but frustratingly for Wasps the move ended in a Worcester penalty.
The first round of the inevitable aerial ping-pong came on 13 minutes, and, after a series of kicks Tom Voyce found himself under pressure near his own line, but Wasps managed to keep possession and Reddan put in a much-needed clearance.
Worcester were again on the attack after another series of kicks saw them win possession to set up space for Myles Benjamin down the left but Sackey was across quickly forcing his opposite number into touch. A minute later, Worcester took the lead, as a towering kick from fly half Matthew Jones got the better of Lewsey and centre Sam Tuitupou followed up to gather the loose ball and crash over. Jones was unable to add the conversion.
Walder had a chance to open the Wasps account, when Worcester were penalised for crossing after Latham gathered a high ball, but his long-range kick drifted wide. Two minutes later, Worcester stretched their lead to 8-0 as Jones made no mistake with a straightforward penalty from 30 metres.
As the half progressed a long Walder penalty downfield found space deep inside the Wasps 22 and the chasing Reddan caught winger Chris Pennell in possession, but Wasps again transgressed at the breakdown. Walder’s next penalty to touch, from the centre spot, was over-hit, and went into touch in goal.
As the changing room beckoned frustration was the order of the day as Wasps continued to set up promising positions, only to be let down by basic errors and avoidable offences. Clearly encouraged by their lead, Worcester continued to apply the pressure and one powerful burst by flanker James Collins took play into the 22.
With three minutes of the half left, Simon Shaw was helped off pitch with a thigh injury and was replaced by Richard Birkett. Eager to get points on the board Wasps launched their best move of the game, ended temporarily by Tuitupou’s thunderous hit on James Haskell, but the Worcester counterattack broke down and the ball was spun out to the right where Sackey went close. When play came back infield, Reddan broke to the left of a ruck, before swiveling round to pass back inside to Sackey, who went over between the posts. Walder narrowed the gap to a single point with the easy conversion.
Enthused by the score, Wasps upped the tempo in the closing minutes of the half with Riki Flutey showing the skills of a flanker to win turnover possession from a Worcester counterattack, before chipping downfield to again stretch the visitors’ defence. The half ended with another powerful Wasps attack breaking down deep inside the 22.
With a point between the two sides as the second half got underway, Wasps made their second substitution of the day as skipper Raphael Ibanez was replaced by Wasps young gun Rob Webber – a heavy knock to Ibanez in the first half forcing him to retire to the bench.
Wasps did well to secure their own restart and a promising position was set up on the right but they again were guilty crossing. Then, after Tom Rees’s powerful run from a lineout Flutey forced his way into the 22, but Wasps went off their feet at the tackle.
Despite these disappointments, Wasps were now playing their best rugby of the game and the Worcester defence was being severely stretched. After one furious attack, Worcester prop Chris Horsman limped off to be replaced by Tevita Taumoepeau and his side immediately turned round a Wasps scrum under the posts.
Sustained pressure on the Worcester line, after Voyce and Webber had gone close, then gave Walder a short-range penalty which he gratefully landed to put his side ahead 11 minutes into the half. Wasps were now really beginning to find their game and Rees and Haskell’s powerful running was making inroads into the defence, setting up one flowing move in which Flutey and Lewsey were both prominent. Worrying, Phil Vickery went down clutching his left leg but he was able to resume after treatment.
Good hands in the backs then sent Voyce clear down the left but Latham was on hand to put in a crucial tackle and Wasps again conceded a penalty. For several minutes that became the pattern with Wasps playing some exciting rugby with Rees, Voyce, Flutey, Reddan and Birkett all to the fore. Frustratingly though they couldn’t find the final pass and continued to concede penalties at the breakdown.
Walder then set up an attack with a cheeky chip from his own 22, gathering the loose ball before sending another kick deep into Worcester territory where Pennell gathered and put in a magnificent clearance finding touch near the Wasps line. This launched a period of sustained Worcester pressure, which was only kept out by desperate defence. The siege was lifted when it was the visitors’ turn to concede a penalty,after a lineout from a penalty kick to the corner.
Wasps then squandered an overlap on the left, when Waldouck’s pass failed to find Voyce and rolled harmlessly into touch with acres of inviting space ahead of the winger.
A minute later, Voyce’s chip ahead found touch a few metres from the line. Wasps put pressure on the defensive lineout, to win what could have been crucial ball, but possession was lost in the contact and Worcester were able to clear upfield. Lewsey then set off on a counterattack, only to spill the ball in the tackle.
With just over ten minutes to go, Wasps fans had their hearts in their mouths, as a sweeping Worcester move appeared to have created a potentially match-winning try but Pennell’s inside pass to Latham was adjudged to have gone forward.
With three minutes of normal time left and the referee playing advantage for a high tackle on Waldouck, Reddan put in a delicate little chip to the corner and Sackey was just beaten to the rolling ball. Play was taken back to the penalty, but Walder’s 40-metre kick from near the left touchline was well short of the target.
A wonderful piece of work on the floor by Rees set up another powerful Wasps assault, but lost possession enabled Latham to clear down the right touchline. Play continued before a Worcester kick went dead at Wasps end, only for the assistant referee to bring things back to the Worcester 22 for Tim Payne’s late challenge on the fullback.
The game seemed to be over when Worcester ran a penalty with the clock down to zero but the ball was scrambled into the Wasps 22, where another home offence gave replacement fly-half Crichton the chance to clinch a win with the last kick of the game. As Wasps looked on and silence spread through Adams Park he made no mistake and in a final blow secured Worcester’s first ever win on Wasps territory.
Reflecting on the performance, Wasps Director of Rugby, was clearly disappointed with the result but did see and improvement on the previous week's outing at Twickenahm. "We were better than last week, but we still made far too many mistakes. Some of the penalties were a little harsh, but that was a game that was there for the taking.
"I think we're still trying to play too much rugby and we need to be a bit more patient. But we’ve a good set of players and I'm confident that we’ll soon be in the position where we take the chances we set up."
The next two weeks sees tricky away trips, to Northampton and Leicester, before Wasps return to Adams Park for an evening game against Bath, on October the 1st. Tickets for both these games are available from the Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers Ticket Office.
Tickets for Wasps midweek fixture against Bath are on sale now – call the Ticket Hotline on 0870 4141515 or go online here