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Wasps went 10-0 down within the first ten minutes, but two early second-half tries put them ahead and the defence then withstood sustained late pressure to ensure that the men in black and gold stay just two points behind Pool leaders Toulouse.
Wasps conceded a penalty within 25 seconds of the start, after James Cannon had been unable to gather Jason Tovey’s high, hanging kickoff. The fly half went for the posts, from just over 40 metres, and his kick just had enough power to drop over the crossbar.
Wasps were showing plenty of ambition, and running the ball from their own 22, but a handling error gave Dragons the chance to threaten, and Tom Varndell was forced to carry Tovey’s dangerous chip over the line. Wasps were penalised at the scrum and the home side chose to go for another scrum. They were rewarded when they pounced on a loose ball to attack down the right, and quick passing created a huge overlap, to see Ashley Smith strolling over unopposed for a well-worked try in the ninth minute. Tovey converted to give his side a 10-0 lead.
A strong chase to Dave Walder’s restart led to a Wasps penalty, a few metres outside the Dragons 22, but the fly half’s well-struck kick bounced back off the left post. With 17 minutes gone, Walder had another chance to open his side’s score and this time his penalty kick was on target from 40 metres.
This score seemed to give Wasps the lift they needed, and they almost produced a length-of-the-field try, after Simon Shaw gathered a kick ahead inside his 22 and sent David Lemi away down the left. The winger exchanged passes with Ben Jacobs and the centre was brought down just short. The ball was recycled and moved right, then back out to the left, and this time Jacobs, later named Man of the Match, was able to force his way over. Walder landed the conversion to level the scores with just under 25 minutes gone.
The home side were back in front within two minutes, when Tovey landed another penalty, from 40 metres. Two minutes later he made it 16-10, with a smart drop goal from almost the same distance.
Wasps came close to a second try when Joe Simpson took a quick penalty, a few metres inside the Dragons half and chipped away. Full back Pat Leach just managed to get back to the ball, as Simpson reached for the touchdown and the TMO ruled that no try had been scored. Dragons were penalised at the resultant scrum and Walder opted to take a simple kick at goal, making no mistake to narrow the gap to 16-13, with six minutes of the half to play.
The Wasps pack was now beginning to apply the pressure and a powerful scrum set up a penalty to take play deep into Dragons territory. A further kickable penalty ensued inside the final two minutes of the half, but Walder was just off target. The home side went to the break sitting on a narrow lead, after 40 minutes in which Wasps had posed the occasional threat, but made too many basic handling errors and conceded too many turnovers.
Wasps went ahead five minutes after the restart, after Mark Van Gisbergen gathered a long kick ahead near the left touchline and cut back infield. Quick ball was moved out to the left and Steve Kefu sliced through a gap to send David Lemi racing in at the corner. Walder’s conversion was delayed by several minutes as his opposite number required treatment before being helped from the field. The kick eventually drifted just to the right of the posts.
Wasps immediately conceded a penalty when Andy Powell went up to gather a high kick, but the ball cannoned off him and hit a Wasps player in an offside position. Matthew Jones, who had barely entered the fray as Tovey’s replacement sent his kick wide from 40 metres.
Wasps almost stretched the lead, when Kefu lifted a chip over the defence, and Ben Jacobs was narrowly beaten to the touchdown. Dan Ward-Smith then came on for Serge Betsen.
Wasps were now gradually taking control and a patient buildup, begun down the left, took play infield and up towards the line. With the referee playing advantage, the ball was moved out to the left and Tom Varndell had the strength to force his way over near the corner. Walder was again unable to add the extra points.
At the restart, Richard Haughton became the next Wasps replacement, taking the place of Mark Van Gisbergen, and almost his first action was to line up for a Dragons penalty, but Matthew Jones was again unable to find the target.
An elusive run by left wing Aled Brew then brought his side close to a score in the right corner. They continued to hammer away at the Wasps defence and again came close when the forwards appeared to have forced their way over wide out on the left, but the TMO again ruled no try. From the scrum, the Wasps defence forced a turnover, giving Joe Simpson the chance to clear to outside his 22. Shaun Ruwers then came on for Zak Taulafo, whose powerful running had featured strongly in the second half.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Dragons kept up the pressure and Wasps were forced to concentrate on defending their lead, rather than chasing the bonus point. With under six minutes left, a rare missed tackle in midfield gave the Dragons a chance and they quickly moved the ball out to the right, where Adam Hughes crashed over in the corner but the TMO ruled he’d gone into touch.
James Cannon made way for Marty Veale in the 78th minute. Dragons mounted one final assault but the defence held firm to secure a valuable away win. The two sides meet for the return fixture next Sunday at Adams Park, when the kickoff is again at 1 pm. Tickets are on sale now call 0844 225 2990 or book online here.