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New signing Serge Betsen made his debut for Wasps against Northampton Saints
Although Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan credited some improvement and obvious effort and endeavour form his men in black and gold, the reigning Guinness Premiership were today again guilty of conceding an endless stream of penalties and subsequently left Franklin’s Gardens with only a bonus point this afternoon.
The winning score, by the Scottish international winger Sean Lamont, was a well-constructed effort, although one of the passes in the move may have floated forwards. Despite that, Northampton outscored the visitors by three tries to one, and had Bruce Reihana not missed a series of kickable penalties Wasps may well have been looking at a much greater margin.
Following disappointment in the opening two rounds, Wasps got off to a disastrous start as Saints captain Reihana opened the scoring inside the first minute, charging down a clearance kick from Wasps full back Josh Lewsey. Adding the conversion, the skipper set the scene for an explosive game and one whose result would be all too difficult to predict.
Some of the Wasps nerves were calmed after six minutes, when Dave Walder landed a penalty, from just outside the Saints 22. The visitors then took the lead four minutes later with a beautiful try started by Dave Walder’s quick thinking as the fly half broke to the right before finding Tom Voyce with a well-placed pass. The winger then sped through a gap to feed the supporting Dominic Waldouck who crossed near the corner for his first try of the season.
With a slightly more comfortable margin Voyce then showed his defensive skills when he gathered Carlos Spencer’s dangerous chip inside the Wasps 22 before accelerating around two attackers to send a long clearance downfield. After 18 minutes, a controlled drive from a lineout just inside the Saints’ 22 gave Walder a long-range penalty chance which he again struck well to extend the Wasps lead.
Northampton then had a spell of pressure after Voyce fumbled James Downey’s kick towards the corner. A series of phases led to a penalty near the left touchline but Reihana sent his kick wide to the right. A minute later the home side were back in front after Lewsey failed to gather Spencer’s high kick, just inside his 22. The ball bounced into the arms of winger Chris Ashton who darted over between the posts and Reihana’s simple conversion made it 14-11 – pulling the home side back in front.
Eager to reclaim their lead Wasps then set up a promising position when they turned over Northampton ball in midfield. The ball was worked out quickly to Waldouck who appeared to be taken out as he chased his kick ahead but the officials thought otherwise.
Inside the last ten minutes of the half, ill discipline nearly cost Wasps dear when backchat after a Northampton penalty just inside the home half gave them an extra ten metres, however Reihana’s kick hit the left-hand post. There was another left-off three minutes later, after a scrummaging offence 35 metres out gave Reihana another chance to make it 17-11, but fortunately for Wasps the straightforward kick sailed wide.
With three minutes left on the clock, Wasps were forced into a substitution when Joe Ward suffered a shoulder injury and was replaced by young gun, Rob Webber. Webber immediately did well to find his jumper at an attacking lineout just inside the Northampton half and when Saints were penalised Dave Walder levelled the score with the final act of the half, slotting a magnificent penalty kick from nearly 50 metres.
All even at half time with a 14-14 scoreline, Wasps fans could take some encouragement from the first 40 minutes although they had still conceded a string of penalties which had cost them dear. Although Northampton had seen more of the ball the Wasps defence had stood firm and hopes were high at the start of the second half.
As the two sides returned a further substitution was made for Wasps with Pat Barnard coming on in place of Tim Payne. Frustratingly within the first minute of the half, Wasps conceded yet another penalty right in front of their posts and Reihana gratefully slotted the simplest of kicks to restore his side’s three-point lead. Wasps responded well however with a series of controlled phases in which Vickery’s power was prominent and Northampton were forced into a penalty deep inside the 22. Walder did the honours landing his fourth successful penalty of the afternoon.
With eight minutes of the half gone both sides were then reduced to fourteen men as the two hookers, Webber and Dylan Hartley, were shown yellow cards following an altercation near the Saints line. As Wasps had already used their front row replacements this now meant uncontested scrums. From the first of them, Walder made a lovely break to take play into the 22 but he could not find a supporting player and Wasps conceded a penalty at the break. They were soon back on the attack though, stretching the home defence on both sides of the field before Paul Sackey was forced into touch near the corner.
Wasps hearts were in their mouths when Lee Dickson’s clearance kick bounced awkwardly near halfway but the oncoming attackers failed to gather, and Sackey appeared to have a chance to counterattack but he was also unable to control the ball.
Wasps were now beginning to exert some control and Riki Flutey was finding some space in midfield – but after one attack the centre went down injured. He required several minutes of treatment before he could resume and when he did, the first action was a long-range Walder penalty attempt which went just left of the posts 18 minutes into the half.
Northampton then threatened, after Spencer found some space to send a kick rolling into touch near the corner. With twenty three minutes gone, Lewsey, who had switched positions with Voyce was then penalised for not rolling away from the breakdown but Reihana’s kick went well wide and as the ball was rolling dead Hartley raced up to come close to claiming a cheeky try.
A magnificent high catch by Tom Palmer followed by a powerful charge downfield set up Wasps next promising attack however the visitors were yet again penalised at the breakdown.
Eventually reclaiming their lead with fifteen minutes left, a Walder penalty from just inside his own half took Wasps three points ahead with a 17-20 score just before McGeechan began to utilise the bench, bringing on new signings Mark Robinson and Serge Betsen. Unfortunately for the Wasps debutants, their arrival was marked by a third Northampton try from Sean Lamont, who dived over in the corner after a long pass which came close to going forward. Replacement Stephen Myler landed a magnificent touchline conversion, putting his side ahead with ten minutes to go.
Furious Northampton pressure then brought them close to a bonus point try before a penalty gave Wasps the chance to clear their lines. A long Walder penalty then set up an attacking lineout but Saints stole possession and the opportunity had gone. Saints immediately took play back to the other end and a high kick bounced awkwardly for Lewsey. A superb Betsen turnover launched a desperate counterattack before Wasps conceded another penalty near the halfway line. With only a minute remaining Saints opted to kick to touch in an attempt to go for the bonus point. Wasps won the lineout and mounted one final assault but the ball went loose and Saints gratefully kicked it into touch to claim their second win of the season and condemn the champions to a third successive defeat.
Wasps now prepare for a trip to Welford Road, facing Leicester Tigers on Friday, KO 8.05pm and as Ian McGeechan said post match - definate improvement was seen today for his men in black and gold and as ever the players will return to training focused on the next challenge that lies ahead. To hear from Geech following today's action click here.
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