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On another wet and miserable afternoon, Wasps were unable to end their losing run, as highflying Saracens secured their first ever win at Adams Park. After trailing by 11 points within 15 minutes, Wasps did well to snatch the lead at halftime. But two second half yellow cards enabled Saracens to take control, and Wasps were never able to set up any sustained pressure, until the closing minutes, when they were battling for a consolation bonus point.
Wasps made a late change to their lineup, when Joe Worsley withdrew, having failed to recover from the neck injury he suffered at Welford Road, last weekend. His place was taken by Serge Betsen, with Sam Jones coming on to the bench.
The bright weather of the morning gave way to dark skies, and there was steady rain by the start of the game, which was preceded by a minute’s silence, in memory of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
Saracens went ahead inside two minutes, when Brad Barritt leapt high to gather a hoisted kick, inside the Wasps half. He kept his footing, and fed the supporting Andy Saull, who raced clear, to go over in the corner for an unconverted try.
Two minutes later, tempers flared, after David Lemi was taken out by a high tackle by Hayden Smith, just inside the Saracens half. Following a brief confrontation between the two packs, referee Greg Garner consulted his assistant , and sent Marty Veale to the sin bin, as well as reversing the penalty.
After ten minutes, Wasps went further behind, when they failed to roll away from a breakdown, inside their 22, and Alex Goode landed a straightforward kick, to make it 8-0.
Saracens remained camped in Wasps territory, and their pressure forced another penalty at the breakdown. From a similar position, Goode was again on target, to bring the score to 11-0, after minutes.
With Veale back on the field, Wasps finally made their way into the Saracens half, but, as had happened at Wembley, their lineout was struggling, and Saracens stole a series of Wasps throws. When they eventually secured their own ball, the forwards put in an impressive drive, to win a penalty, 35 metres out, and Dave Walder made no mistake with a well-struck kick.
As the rain became heavier, Wasps began to gather some momentum, and a counterattacking run by Mark Van Gisbergen launched a controlled buildup, which sent David Lemi away down the left. He kicked ahead into the 22,, Goode came back to gather, but Wasps pressure forced a penalty, and Walder was again on target, to narrow the gap to five points, with just over 15 minutes of the half to play.
Another high kick ahead almost brought Saracens a second try, when number 8 Ernst Joubert went up to gather, and then charged 20 metres, before losing the ball in the tackle, a few metres short of the line.
Inside the final ten minutes of the half, Saracens turned down a kickable penalty, opting instead to go for the corner. They won the lineout, Wasps resisted the initial drive, but were then penalised again. This time, Goode went for the posts, but his kick went wide, from the 22, around 15 metres in from the left touchline.
Wasps responded well, when Joe Simpson gathered another high kick, and beat two defenders, to take play over halfway, before Saracens were penalised, and Dave Walder had a 42-metre kick for goal, which he sent sailing through the posts, to narrow the gap to two points, four minutes before the break.
Simpson again showed his speed, breaking away down the right, before sending a kick down into the 22. Goode gathered, but Tom Lindsay’s excellent chase saw him tackle the fullback into touch, ten metres from the line. Sadly, his lineout throw was then adjudged not straight, but a powerful Wasps scrum sent the Saracens eight sliding backwards, to force a penalty, and Walder’s fourth successful kick gave his side a 12-11 lead, as the whistle blew for halftime – a scoreline which reflected how Wasps had clawed their way back into the game, after a shaky start.
Two minutes into the second half, Wasps were penalised for taking a player out in the air, at a lineout, 35 metres out, and Goode put Saracens back in front. Within a minute, Saracens conceded a penalty, after Andy Powell had gathered a high kick, and forced his way over halfway. Walder made it five out of five, with a kick, which just had enough to drop over the bar.
With the rain continuing to come down, Saracens stuck to the tactic of hoisting high kicks. After Joe Simpson was unable to gather one of them, just inside his 22, John Hart was penalised for not binding, at the resultant scrum, and Goode had a simple kick, to restore the lead, after 48 minutes.
Five minutes later, Wasps were penalised for coming in at the side of a breakdown, a few metres in from touch, and ten metres outside their 22. Goode landed the tricky kick, to give his side a five points lead. Wasps were then reduced to 14 men, when Tim Payne was shown a yellow card, for an offence at a lineout on halfway. Saracens soon took advantage of their numerical superiority, keeping the ball in the forwards for several phases, to win the inevitable penalty, just outside the 22, and Goode’s sixth successful kick stretched the lead to eight points.
Before the restart, Dave Walder left the field, to be replaced by Ben Jacobs. Charlie Beech then came on for Serge Betsen, at the first scrum during Payne’s absence. Beech was immediately prominent, in a controlled series of phases by the forwards. They took play into the Saracens 22, before possession was turned over.
Wasps were then reduced to 13 men, when John Hart was controversially shown a yellow card for playing the ball on the ground, following a Saracens knockon, a few metres inside the Wasps half. To rub further salt into the wound, Goode landed the penalty, to give his side a commanding 11-points lead, with under 15 minutes to play.
As Tim Payne returned from the sinbin, Joe Ward replaced Tom Lindsay. Further substitutions saw Jack Wallace and Joe Launchbury take the places of Mark Van Gisbergen and Marty Veale, before Charlie Beech returned, as a permanent replacement for Payne.
With Wasps needing a try to get a bonus point, they turned down a series of close-range penalties, with the forwards battling hard, to inch their way towards the line, but they were unable to force their way through the solid defence. They spent the best part of minutes camped on the line, before they were held up at the last moment. With seconds to go, and Hart returned to the fray, they had the put in to a scrum. Despite a desperate bid for the line by Joe Simpson, they lost possession, and Saracens were able to clear to touch, and end a disappointing afternoon for the men in black and gold.
Wasps are back at Adams Park next Sunday, when Sale are the visitors, in the Aviva Premiership.
15 Mark Van Gisbergen
14 Richard Haughton
13 Dominic Waldouck
12 Riki Flutey
11 David Lemi
10 Dave Walder
9 Joe Simpson
1 Tim Payne
2 Tom Lindsay
3 Ben Broster
4 Marty Veale
5 Richard Birkett (c)
6 John Hart
7 Serge Betsen
8 Andy Powell
16 Joe Ward, 17 Charlie Beech, 18 Zak Taulafo, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Nic Berry, 22 Ben Jacobs, 23 Jack Wallace
15 Alex Goode
14 David Strettle
13 Rodd Penney
12 Brad Barritt
11 Chris Wyles
10 Owen Farrell
9 Richard Wigglesworth
1 Rhys Gill
2 Schalk Brits
3 Carlos Nieto
4 Steve Borthwick ©
5 Hayden Smith
6 Justin Melck
7 Andy Saull
8 Ernst Joubert
16 Jamie George, 17 Jared Saunders, 18 Matt Stevens,19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Adam Powell, 23 James Short