After seven lively minutes, with both sides showing an eagerness to move the ball, Wasps had an early chance to go ahead after Dom Waldouck and Joe Worsley put in a good chase to Joe Simpson’s downfield kick. Chris Ashton was caught in possession and failed to release, but Cipriani’s long-range penalty from just inside the home half was short and wide. A minute later, Wasps were penalised on their own ten-metre line and Bruce Reihana made no mistake to give his side the lead.
Wasps came straight back, when Northampton failed to gather Cipriani’s hanging restart. They were penalised at a scrum on their 22 and Cipriani landed a simple kick to level the scores with 11 minutes gone.
Three minutes later, returning captain Tom Rees, spearheaded a powerful drive from a lineout on the Northampton 22 to take play to within a few metres of the Northampton line. The home side were again penalised, a few metres in from the left touchline, but Cipriani was off target with his kick at goal.
Wasps came close to the opening try, after 22 minutes, when Steve Kefu burst through a gap in midfield and found Paul Sackey on his inside. The winger found his way into the 22, but the defence was back to stop his progress, the recycled ball was worked out to the left and eventually went into touch. A few minutes later the best attack of the day, with Rees again prominent, saw Wasps go even closer but a vital turnover was conceded on the Northampton line and the danger was cleared.
Wasps kept up the pressure and were rewarded with a penalty just outside the Northampton 22, for another offence at the breakdown. Cipriani’s kick, from the right of the posts, was successful to give his side a 6-3 lead with 12 minutes of the half to play. Three minutes later, Reihana had a chance to make it 6-6, after Wasps were found guilty of obstruction a few metres inside their own half but his kick dropped just short.
With four minutes of the half left, Northampton had their best position of the game with a scrum inside the Wasps 22, but the ball was turned over. A glorious counterattack featuring backs and forwards took play to the other end of the field, before the home side regained possession, to launch a counterattack of their own, and it took a fine covering tackle by Dan Ward-Smith to prevent Reihana escaping down the left wing.
Northampton took the lead on the stroke of halftime, when a sustained attack saw flanker Roger Wilson go over in the corner. Reihana could not add the extra points, and the half ended with the home side narrowly ahead, by 8 points to 6. This had been an encouraging forty minutes from Wasps, who had looked the more dangerous side, and could consider themselves more than a little unlucky to trail at the break. Most encouragingly, Tom Rees and Joe Simpson had both looked busy and impressive on their returns from long-term injury absences.
Wasps made one change at the break, with Ben Jacobs replacing Mark Van Gisbergen at fullback. Northampton had a great chance to stretch their lead in the opening minute of the half, when Ben Foden was sent away down the left but his inside pass went to ground with the line a few metres away.
Six minutes into the half, the home side put together a breathtaking attack with miraculous offloading and handling. They swept into the Wasps 22 and Shane Geraghty hoisted a kick towards the right wing, but Tom Varndell got back to make a mark a few metres from his line under pressure from Soane Tonga’uiha.
Northampton were gaining confidence and the next few minutes saw them piece together some flowing rugby, which stretched the Wasps defence to the limit before some gutsy work by Simpson produced a turnover near his line. Wasps moved the ball quickly from the scrum, to create an opportunity down the right, but Jacobs sent his kick directly into touch. A minute later a wonderful move down the same wing sent Varndell racing clear. He was stopped a few metres out and the supporting Sackey was just unable to finish what would have been a spectacular try.
Wasps again came agonisingly close, after quick ball from a midfield turnover released the backs down the left. Varndell raced into the 22, with support on his inside, but his pass to the unmarked Cipriani went forward. Dave Walder then took the place of Steve Kefu, who’d required several minutes of treatment, a few minutes earlier. He took over at fly half, with Cipriani moving to fullback
Wasps continued to press and another flowing move saw Varndell stopped just short, before Northampton were penalised near their own line. Walder was given the responsibility of taking the penalty and he duly obliged with a fine kick to put Wasps one point ahead with 15 minutes left.
Ben Broster then came on for Tim Payne, who’d left the field with a blood injury. This was followed by Serge Betsen taking the place of Joe Worsley. Within a minute of that change, it was a Northampton substitute Stephen Myler who put his side back in front with a well-taken drop goal from 30 metres. Two minutes later, Myler stretched the lead to five points, with a simple penalty after Wasps transgressed at a ruck near their line. David Lemi was the next Wasps replacement, taking over from Sackey.
Wasps threw everything into the closing few minutes, but a penalty for crossing inside the home 22, ended a promising position, after they’d turned down a kick at the posts to go for the corner. They were unable to find a way through and it was a relieved home crowd which heard the final whistle go to end a pulsating encounter.
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