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After being in contention for much of the game, Wasps were eventually undone by eight successful penalties – seven from Charlie Hodgson.
Going into the last minutes of the game, the Men in Black in Gold seemed set to come away with nothing, for only the second time this season. But then with just three minutes left, Charlie Davies went over between the posts and Wasps hung on to win a well deserved bonus point
Saracens made an ominous start, with a powerful drive from a lineout just inside the Wasps half. They drove 15 metres infield, before releasing the ball to the backs. David Strettle joined the line and used his speed and footwork to beat Tim Payne and Zak Taulafo, to split the defence. It took an excellent tackle by Christian Wade to stop him deep inside the 22, but Wasps were penalised and Charlie Hodgson made no mistake with his kick, to open the scoring after five minutes.
Wasps produced an immediate and perfect response, when Christian Wade gathered Richard Wigglesworth’s clearance, just inside his own half. He came infield and fed Hugo Southwell, who made the most of the space to find Tom Varndell and the winger raced in from 30 metres for his 7th try of the season in the left corner. Nick Robinson’s conversion attempt went just to the left of the posts.
Robinson was also off target with a long-range penalty attempt after 15 minutes, following further good work by Wade, under a high ball. The winger slipped the first chaser and zigzagged round a a series of would-be tacklers, before being stopped just short of the home 10 metre line, and the penalty ensued.
Five minutes later, Robinson finally hit the target with a well-taken drop goal from 30 metres after his well-judged kick had forced Charlie Hodgson to carry the ball back over his line, near the corner.
Although Wasps’ scrum ball was untidy, Ashley Johnson did well to keep it alive and it was moved out to the left, where Hugo Southwell ran into a wall of defenders, who forced him back over the 22. With the referee playing advantage, Robinson went for the posts and his low kick hit the target.
Saracens responded inside a minute, with a Hodsgson penalty and another three-pointer from the flyhalf then gave his side the lead after his excellent kick ahead left Robinson isolated, ten metres inside his own half.
12 minutes before halftime, Saracens went further ahead after a long raking kick by Hodgson found touch on the Wasps 22. Wasps won the lineout but Charlie Davies’s attempted clearance was charged down by Alistair Hargreaves. The lock did well to follow up his charge and manage to get the touchdown, just before the ball went dead. Hodgson missed the conversion, but his side now led 14-8.
Wasps had a chance to pull back three points when Elliot Daly took a penalty from a few metres inside the Saracens half. His kick comfortably had the distance, but went just to the left of the posts. Three minutes from the break, following a superb high take by Wade, Wasps had another penalty from a few metres inside the Saracens half. Robinson resumed the kicking duties, and his effort just had enough to drop over the bar, to make the score 14-11.
A superb piece of play by Joe Launchbury then set up the chance to level the scores. He gathered a kick and made 30 metres into the Saracens 22, before offloading to Charlie Davies. He was stopped a few metres short, but Alistair Hargreaves went off his feet at the breakdown and was shown the yellow card. Robinson made no mistake with an awkward kick a few metres in from the right touchline, to level the scores at 14-all.
There was just time for Billy Vunipola to put in an impressive charge down the right, before halftime came with the sides all square after 40 entertaining minutes, in which Wasps had more than held their own.
Inside the first minute, Saracens were back in front through a 40-metre penalty from Nils Mordt, who had just come on to the field as a blood replacement for Charlie Hodgson, whose run had set up the penalty.
A great run by Rhys Thomas took play deep into the Saracens 22. He found Ashley Johnson in support, but the defence scrambled back to stop the movement but a double knockon gave Wasps an attacking scrum. They won quick ball and attacked from close range, winning a penalty in front of the posts. Robinson landed the easy kick, to make it all square again.
15 minutes into the half, Hodgson restored the home side’s three-point lead, After James Haskell’s strong tackle on Alistair Hargreaves, which left the lock requiring several minutes of treatment. Although it looked high, Hargreaves was ducking as Haskell came in to the tackle. The referee consulted the TMO, who decided that the tackle warranted no more than a quiet word to the Wasps flanker and a penalty. Hargreaves had to be carried off on a stretcher but the TV commentary backed Haskell, taking the view that even a penalty was a harsh call.
Hodgson added another penalty after 62 minutes, when Wasps failed to roll away from the tackle 35 metres out. Three minutes later, a powerful Saracens scrum forced Wasps to wheel, and Hodgson’s sixth penalty put the home side nine points clear, at 26-17.
Tommy Bell replaced Nick Robinson, and immediately made a promising half-break. He then decided to go for the posts, from a penalty, just inside his own half. His kick was on target, but dropped just short. A minute later, Hodgson had a kick from the same spot, after Billy Vunipola was ruled offside from a Wasps clearance. The successful penalty made the score 29-17 inside the final ten minutes.
James Cannon took the place of Joe Launchbury as Wasps threw everything into a desperate attempt to salvage something. They made their way upfield and a series of penalties set up a lineout near the corner, from which Charlie Davies went for the line and just managed to stretch his arm over to touch down for a vital try, which Tommy Bell converted with two minutes left.
Saracens pressed strongly, and set up a threatening position from which to deny the visitors the bonus point, but Wasps won a penalty on their 22, and the game ended with the score at 29-24 with Wasps taking a point, which could easily have been more.
Wasps team: 15 Hugo Southwell (c) 14 Tom Varndell 13 Elliot Daly 12 Chris Bell 11 Christian Wade 10 Nick Robinson 9 Charlie Davies 1 Tim Payne 2 T Rhys Thomas 3 Zak Taulafo 4 Joe Launchbury 5 Marco Wentzel 6 Ashley Johnson 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay 17 Phil Swainston 18 Simon McIntyre 19 James Cannon 20 Sam Jones 21 Jonah Holmes 22 Tommy Bell 23 Andrea Masi
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles 14 David Strettle 13 Joel Tomkins 12 Kameli Ratuvou 11 James Short 10 Charlie Hodgson 9 Richard Wigglesworth 1 Matt Stevens 2 Schalk Brits 3 Carlos Nieto 4 Steve Borthwick © 5 Alistair Hargreaves 6 Kelly Brown 7 Andy Saull 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements:16 John Smit 17 Nick Auterac 18 Petrus du Plessis 19 George Kruis 20 Will Fraser 21 Neil de Kock 22 Nils Mordt 23 Joe Maddock