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Going into this game, Wasps knew that their chances of reaching the last four were not in their own hands, as Gloucester were in pole position, after two wins in their first two pool games. To have any chance of progressing, they had to win, and hope that Newcastle did them a favour against the Cherry and Whites. Wasps did what was needed of them, coming from behind to score two tries in the last twelve - but the delight of a hard-earned win was dampened, when news came through that Gloucester had come from behind to snatch victory at Kingston Park.
Wasps took the lead in the third minute, with an excellent 45 metre Dave Walder penalty after Dragons infringed at a scrum near the touchline.
A Mark Van Gisbergen counter-attack from a long kick downfield then launched an attack which took play through numerous phases, before a knock-on gave Newport a defensive scrum.
Dragons drew level with a Shaun Connor penalty in the 13th minute. Walder’s excellent hanging restart then led to a knock on, giving Wasps an attacking position inside the visitors 22 but the visitors’ back row disrupted possession, and a good opportunity was lost. Almost immediately Dragons infringed at the breakdown and Walder’s well-struck penalty, from 40 metres, put his side back in front.
Dan Leo then gathered the restart to charge downfield, but his pass was intercepted on the Dragons 10 metre line. Wasps immediately regained possession and mounted their best attack of the game, a sweeping move involving forwards and backs, which took play deep into the 22, before another breakdown offence eased the pressure.
Dragons then made their first deep incursion into Wasps territory, when centre Rhodri Gomer-Davies found a gap into the defence, to take play up towards the 22 but his pass was badly timed slowing the attack up and the defence had no difficulty forcing winger Tal Selly into touch.
The visitors threatened again, when left-winger Richard Fussell came into the line from the blind side, to create space for full-back Phil Dollman, but further defensive pressure forced a turnover. Dragons continued to press and one powerful thrust for the line was spoiled by a knock on. At the scrum a penalty gave Wasps the chance to take play back towards halfway.
Some excellent tidying up on the ground by Serge Betsen then gave Walder time to a send a long kick into touch at the corner. Dragons won the lineout but the clearance kick was run back, and a grub kick set up another lineout in the same position. After the clearance was again run back Wasps made ground down the left and the crowd was frustrated at the referee’s decision to call a knock on when a Dragons hand clearly made contact with Jeremy Staunton’s inside pass. An excellent Wasps scrum put pressure on scrum-half Tom Isaacs, who was forced into touch near the corner. Dragons were then penalised a few metres from their line and Walder chose to kick to the corner. Wasps won good lineout ball and forced their way over the line but it was impossible to tell whether the ball was grounded under a pile of bodies.
Two scrums followed, with Wasps making going forward both times, before another penalty was awarded against the visitors. Wasps opted for a scrum, which again produced a penalty. Inevitably a Dragons player went down injured giving his side a breather after the intense pressure. When the scrum went down again Wasps released the ball and Rob Webber was stopped just short of the line, before yet another offence from the Magners League side, just to the left of the posts. From another scrum Wasps again crossed the line but again Mr White ruled that the ball had not been grounded.
After two more scrums and another powerful thrust, the half ended in anti-climax as Wasps were penalised and to their great relief the Welsh side cleared to touch.
There was some cheer, with the news from Kingston Park that Newcastle were leading Gloucester, but it could not lift the feeling of frustration that such a sustained period of pressure had failed to produce a score. Despite that, it was clear that the Wasps forwards were now well on top and credit was due to the dogged Dragons defence for keeping the home side out.
Wasps came close to scoring their first try after Connor dropped the ball just outside his 22. With Chris White playing advantage Josh Lewsey burst through a gap but the ball was spilt just short of the line. Lewsey then showed awareness when a long Dragons kick stopped just short of the dead-ball line. He placed his foot behind the line before gathering the ball, ensuring that play was taken back to near the half-way line for a Wasps scrum after Mr White consulted his assistant referee.
Connor then missed, with a long drop at goal, and when play switched to the other end, Dragons forgot new law about taking the ball back into the 22 before kicking directly to touch. Wasps won lineout ball on the 22 skipper Joe Worsley set up possession in midfield and scrumhalf Mark Robinson fed Tom Voyce, whose well-timed run took him close to the line before a Wasps infringement surrendered the position.
Several minutes of scrappy play followed, before Dragons won a lineout on the Wasps 22 Selley came into the line from the blindside wing to send Ashley Smith over near the posts. Connor added the extra points to make it 10-6 after 15 forgettable minutes of the half. The fly half was then only narrowly off target with a penalty attempt from 5 metres inside his own half. After Richard Birkett did well to take a high ball under pressure, Webber sent Tom Voyce streaking away down the left but he was called back for a forward pass.
Mark Van Gisbergen
Wasps made their first substitution with Lachlan Mitchell coming on in place of Staunton. They were immediately awarded a penalty just inside Dragons territory. As Walder lined up his kick Eoin Reddan replaced Mark Robinson just in time to see the penalty attempt sail wide.
The busy Dan Leo then left the field, to be replaced by Hugo Ellis, just as Walder made no mistake with a much easier kick to narrow the gap to a single point with 18 minutes left to play.
With the Dragons front row coming under further pressure former Wasps prop Adam Black was replaced by Alex Murphy who immediately went down injured causing the referee to order uncontested scrums. Wasps then withdrew both Tim Payne and Pat Barnard, sending on Damian Varley and Tom French. Ironically an old-fashioned forward drive then put Wasps back in front, when Varley forced his way over beneath a pile of bodies – the second super-sub score he’s made, following his match winning debut try at Welford Road. Walder missed the conversion.
Dragons then pounced on a loose ball to take play back to the Wasps line as news came through that Gloucester had gone ahead at Kingston Park, rendering events here academic.
With just four minutes of the game left, things suddenly came to life, after Reddan cheekily snatched the ball from a ruck to race downfield. When the ball went loose, Dragons counterattacked from their own line and the crowd was finally treated to the sort of movement which had been missing from much of what had gone before.
Wasps continued to press strongly and the game ended with Lewsey powering his way over by the posts after Isaacs dropped the ball on his own line. Walder’s conversion made the final score 21-10 – a win which was not enough to take them into the semi-finals thanks to Gloucester’s 11-10 win at Newcastle.