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In a dogged fight to the death, Wasps collected four points and their aim of a win - game by game with a tough run into the end of the season ahead of them.
The home side were forced into a change in their front row, when Pat Barnard’s lingering knee injury ruled him out. This gave a debut to Wasps Academy and England Under 20 prop Bob Baker. The only other late change to the side was seen on the bench where Rob Hoadley replaced Mark Odejobi.
Wasps made their intentions clear from the start, when they turned down two kickable penalties in the first two minutes. The forwards hammered at the Bristol line, in a series of drives, but they were kept out by resolute defence, before eventually deciding to go for goal when a further penalty was awarded deep inside the 22. Danny Cipriani made no mistake with the kick after nine minutes.
Wasps then had to make a substitution when Dan Leo came on for John Hart - who’d taken a heavy knock in the first two minutes. Bristol came back strongly and Mark Van Gisbergen was forced into a slick piece of work near the corner, when a Bristol kick found space. The visitors then took a deserved lead, after 21 minutes, when they switched the direction of an attack, to send winger David Lemi racing clear down the left to cross for a well-worked try which Ed Barnes could not convert. Wasps immediately regained the lead, when Cipriani landed his second close-range penalty.
Bristol went back in front on the half-hour with another fine try. After winning a lineout on the Wasps 22, on the left, Lemi came into the line from the blindside, the ball was worked out to right-winger Lee Robinson, who went over in the corner. The conversion from Barnes just crept over the bar to make it 12-6.
Wasps finally brought their supporters to line when a charging run from Rob Webber’s powerful charge took play up to half way. He combined well with Tom Rees and Eoin Reddan before the ball was released to the backs, who advanced into the Bristol 22 where the visitors were penalised near the right touchline. It was Cipriani’s hardest kick of the game, but the fly half completely miss-hit and it went wide.
The final action of the half saw Lachlan Mitchell launch a counterattack, after a Barnes penalty, which would have marked the end of the first 40 minutes, missed touch. Mark Van Gisbergen set off on a mazy run and combined with Serge Betsen, who forced his way into the 22. Bristol infringed at the breakdown and Cipriani landed a simple kick, as lock Roy Winters made his way to the sinbin, with the halftime score 12-9 to the visitors.
After a powerful opening, Wasps had rather lost their way and were rather fortunate to only trail by three points. Bristol had defended well and looked dangerous in attack, with the elusive Lemi a constant threat. The Wasps pack, with Richard Birkett making his 200th appearance, had provided plenty of possession, but the backs were still struggling to find the fluency they’ve been seeking all season.
Wasps made one telling substitution for the second half, with Dave Walder replacing Cipriani. Five minutes after the break, Walder had the chance to make the score level, after Robinson dropped Reddan’s kick and Shaun Perry played the ball in an offside position - but the long kick at goal went just wide. Tom Voyce then put Wasps into a fine attacking position with a magnificent kick from deep inside his own half, which rolled into touch near the corner, but a knock on at the lineout gave Bristol a scrum, at which Wasps were penalised. The kick failed to find touch and another Wasps attack ended with a knock on just short of the line, after another penetrative run by the lively Van Gisbergen. By now, Winters had competed his ten minutes in the bin but his place was taken by Mariano Sambucetti meaning that Wasps had failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority.
Wasps continued to go on the offensive, with Josh Lewsey’s power punching a series of holes in the Bristol defence but frustratingly they could not apply the finish touch to a series of promising positions, until the 57th minute, when a sustained attack, which had begun inside their own half, ended with Lachlan Mitchell taking debutant Bob Baker’s long pass to dive over in the corner - for his second try in two weeks. Walder added the extra points with a magnificent kick from the touchline.
With tension high, both sides were conceding regular penalties and the game was becoming a disjointed affair. Wasps came close to a second try, after another fine counterattack by Van Gisbergen. The ball went out wide to right and Waldouck’s chip ahead, from just outside the 22 bounced awkwardly for the defence, giving Mitchell another run for the line, but he was stopped just short.
They again went close, after the ball squirted from a scrum inside the Bristol 22. Reddan gathered and fed Betsen who was stopped just short. He flicked the ball towards George Skivington, but it was down at his toes and he couldn’t gather with the line at his mercy.
Reddan was then within a whisker of scoring, as he chased his own kick ahead, but the ball bounced high and he couldn’t hang on a few metres short of the line. Walder then limped from the field, and Rob Hoadley came on, for the final five minutes.
Another Wasps substitution had seen Charlie Beech replace Baker and it was Beech who ended a move set up by his own turnover, inside the Bristol 22. Hoadley went through a gap, and was stopped just short of the line. The ball was quickly recycled and the Academy prop dived gleefully over, for his second try of the season.
Wasps fans were still celebrating the score which they thought had made the game safe, when Bristol came storming back with a second try from Robinson - who won the race to a kick to the corner. Barnes narrowed the gap to two points with a superb conversion, to set up a nail biting finale.
With the clock at zero, Bristol ran a penalty from inside their game, but tenacious defence ended with man of the match Reddan stealing possession in the tackle, and the whistle went, to stretch Wasps run of home Premiership wins to six.
The men in black and gold now head into a tough run of fixtures with Saracens away next Sunday – the start of three games in seven days but bolstered by the four points the focus is the challenge ahead and another set of four points!