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Had fly half Stephen Myler brought his kicking boots, the story could well have ended differently for the men in black and gold, but his four missed kicksand three successful penalties from Danny Cipriani were enough to see Wasps continue momentum on home turf with a 9 points to 5 win.
The home side made one change to their original selection, with Richard Birkett replacing Dan Leo in the back row, and new signing Marty Veale taking Birkett’s seat on the bench.
Wasps had their first scoring chance after five minutes as Saints were penalised after a fracas at the scrum and Danny Cipriani was on target from 45 metres.
Four minutes later Saints were caught offside, just inside the Wasps half, but the fly half’s kick went just wide of the posts. From the restart the visitors immediately conceded another penalty, just outside their 22, and this time Cipriani made no mistake to stretch the lead to 6-0.
After 15 minutes, it was Wasps who were caught offside in their 22, but Stephen Myler, possibly dazzled by a sudden burst of sunlight, sent his kick wide.
Wasps threatened the first try of the game when Josh Lewsey pounced on a loose ball to power his way into the 22. He found Serge Betsen in support but Wasps were penalised at the breakdown and a promising position was lost. Play immediately went to the other end of the field after Myler’s fine kick rolled into touch at the corner. Wasps won the ball at the back of the lineout, and a bold counterattack sent Chris Bishay away down the right. He sent a kick downfield, which bounced awkwardly for Ben Foden, just outside his 22. He did well to beat Bishay’s tackle, but was then caught by the winger’s trailing leg and the penalty went against Wasps.
A powerful burst by Saints prop Soane Tonga'uiha set the alarm bells ringing, but Saints wasted their chance with a knock-on, after the ball was spun out to the backs.
The game was descending into a series of penalties, mainly at the scrum, with precious little fluent rugby from either side. Saints were exerting considerable pressure and came close to a try after winning one near the Wasps posts. Fullback Foden came into the line on an angled run, and was stopped just short of the line, being pushed into touch at the corner.
With five minutes of normal time left, the visitors missed a golden opportunity to open their account, when Myler sent a simple penalty wide of the posts. But Cipriani’s dropout went straight into touch, allowing the visitors to keep up the pressure. They won the scrum, attacked down the left, worked the ball back infield, and made a series of drives, only to lose the ball on the line. The game finally burst into life in injury time, with Josh Lewsey setting off a counterattack. It broke down in midfield, but defensive pressure, with Serge Betsen putting in a series of tackles, forced a handling error from Myler, just short of his ten metre line. To the frustration of the crowd, Wasps were again penalised at the scrum. The half ended with yet another penalty against the home side, this time at the breakdown and Myler was again off target.
Wasps were fortunate to lead at the break, as Saints had had the better of the second quarter. On the rare occasions when Wasps had the chance to move the ball wide, they had looked dangerous, but far too many passages of play had ended with penalties being conceded, and overall there had been precious little to excite the crowd.
Wasps made one change for the second half with Tom French replacing Pat Barnard in the front row. Saints came close in the opening minute of the half, after Bishay failed to gather a high kick on his own 22. Saints recycled the ball quickly and Myler sent a perfect kick out wide to Paul Diggin. It took a magnificent covering tackle by former Saints scrum half, Mark Robinson to prevent the score.
Three minutes later it was Robinson who was back to gather Myler’s dangerous kick ahead, after the fly half had made a run down the right touchline. Another powerful scrum resulted in a penalty and the visitors confidently went for another, rather than take a straightforward kick at goal. It appeared that Wasps had put in a powerful shove, but they were again penalised. This time the ball did emerge and Saints took play through countless phases, before finally losing possession on the Wasps line, having seriously stretched the home defence. From the scrum, Robinson relieved the pressure with a good clearance kick. It was his final contribution, as Wasps then brought on Eoin Reddan. In another substitution Rob Hoadley replaced winger Bishay. Saints continued to batter away and eventually scored a well-deserved try when Foden came into the line and dived over near the corner, fifteen minutes after the restart. Myler’s difficult conversion was just wide. Hoadley immediately went off with blood streaming from a cut eye and Dave Walder came in to the back line.
A scintillating counterattacking run by Foden seemed to have set up a second Northampton try, but the final pass to Jon Clarke was ruled forward, to the relief of the home crowd. A Saints offence at the scrum finally gave Wasps the chance to clear their lines, and Walder’s penalty took play up to halfway, for almost the first time in the half. Almost immediately Saints were penalised just inside their own half, and Cipriani landed another long-range penalty. Reddan’s darting blindside break from a scrum then set up another penalty, less than a metre inside the Northampton half, but Cipriani’s kick drifted just to the left of the posts.
A bulldozing run from Man of the Match Lewsey, after he gathered a kick ahead, then set up an attack down the left which led to another penalty near the touchline. Cipriani’s effort was well wide. With eight minutes left, Saints attack again sparked by Foden almost brought a second try, but the Wasps defence just got back to the ball as it bounced dangerously in the in-goal area. Further replacements saw Hugo Ellis and Joe Ward on for John Hart and Rob Webber. With the game now in injury time, Wasps almost scored a winning try, as Cipriani darted through the defence, but his floated pass just failed to find Lewsey.
With the clock running down, Wasps kept the ball in their forwards, and a series of surge led to a scrum near the Saints posts, with less than a minute left. A series of resets meant time was up when the ball emerged, and Tom Voyce thumped it into touch, to secure a hard-earned victory.