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Wasps secured a 33-29 win at home against Gloucester in a thrilling seven-try game of rugby in front of an appreciative Adams Park crowd.
After a lack-lustre first half in which they were a clear second best, despite a narrow halftime lead, Wasps went up several gears to produce a stirring second-half display which consolidated their position in the top four of the Aviva Premiership.
After a lively opening two minutes, in which both sides showed a willingness to run the ball, Gloucester had the first scoring opportunity when Wasps were penalised a few metres inside their own half. Rob Cook’s kick went just to the left of the posts.
A minute later, the Gloucester backs put together a menacing move, with Charlie Sharples being sent clear down the right. He cut inside and made his way into the Wasps 22, but his inside pass failed to find a supporting player and Wasps were able to snuff out the danger.
Gloucester continued to threaten, dominating possession and territory, and keeping Wasps pinned down in their own half.
It was no surprise when they took the lead in the 14th minute following a lineout just inside the Wasps half. The forwards drove the ball infield, and seemed to be going sideways, before Akapusi Qera burst out of the maul and raced into the 22 where he found Dan Robson in support, and the scrumhalf went over near the posts. Cook converted to give the visitors a deserved lead.
Three minutes later an excellent scrum, 12 metres inside the Gloucester half, produced a penalty in midfield and Stephen Jones landed the kick, to put Wasps on the scoreboard.
From the restart, Wasps finally put together a passing move, in which Tom Varndell was sent away down the left. He made 25 metres, before being stopped just outside the 22. He managed to keep the ball alive and it was moved back infield, but Billy Vunipola lost the ball in contact.
With 25 minutes gone, a Stephen Jones penalty found touch in the right corner. Wasps won the lineout and the forwards put in a powerful drive for the line. Ashley Johnson broke away, and managed to stretch over for a try, to put the home side in front. Stephen Jones’s conversion made the score 10-7.
Wasps were immediately back on the defensive, when the long restart found space in the corner. Tom Varndell, who had slipped, managed to turn back and gather, before throwing an infield pass to Hugo Southwell in the in-goal area. But the fullback was caught by two tacklers and forced to touch down for a five-metre scrum.
Wasps managed to protect their line, but Gloucester were eventually awarded a penalty, when Wasps failed to roll away from the tackle 15 metres in from touch, on their 22. Cook levelled the score, with 33 minutes gone.
Gloucester came close to regaining the lead, four minutes before the break. After attacking down the left, they moved the ball back across the field and Charlie Sharples appeared to be clear, but Tom Varndell did well to scramble across and force him in to touch.
Wasps were then awarded a penalty and Sharples failed to gather a long clearance. He had to go back to gather, just outside the 22. He threw a hurried pass infield to Cook, who was instantly scragged by two tacklers. He failed to release and Stephen Jones had an excellent chance to put Wasps back in front, but his kick was off target.
With halftime looming, Wasps were penalised a few metres inside the Gloucester half. Cook went for the goal, but his kick hit the right post. It bounced into the arms of Hugo Southwell. He attempted to clear, but Mike Tindall charged his kick down and came close to touching down, before the ball went dead.
Play switched to the other end, following a Wasps penalty. Another powerful forward drive took them deep into the Gloucester 22, the visitors were penalised and Stephen Jones had a simple kick from in front of the posts, to make the halftime score 13-10. Wasps could count themselves fortunate to be ahead, as Gloucester had dominated territory and possession, without turning their advantage into points. Wasps, in contrast, had made the most of their rare incursions into the Gloucester 22.
Gloucester had a chance to level the scores, inside the first minute of the second half when Wasps were penalised at a scrum, 12 metres inside their half, but Cook was unable to find the target.
A Wasps breakaway then sent Tom Varndell streaking away down the left, but Sharples managed to bring him down with an ankle tap. A minute later, Mike Tindall slipped through Chris Bell’s attempted tackle, to cross for a try, which Cook converted to make the score 17-13 after nine minutes of the second half.
A mix-up in the Gloucester midfield then gave Christian Wade the chance to intercept and send Marco Wentzel galloping away down the right. He was caught inside the 22 and tried to throw a return pass to Wade, but the defence came back in numbers, and kill the attack.
The gap was narrowed to a single point, after a strong Wasps attack down the left yielded a penalty a few metres from the line, and Stephen Jones had a straightforward kick to make the score 17-16, with 22 minutes left.
A minute later, Wasps were back in front, after Billy Vunipola gathered a loose ball and made 10 metres before lobbing a pass out to Christian Wade. The winger had to stretch to gather, giving the defence more time to get across, but he produced a characteristic combination of speed and footwork to race in from near halfway and score his eighth Premiership try of the season. Stephen Jones converted, to give his side a six-point lead with the game in the final quarter.
Wade then had the crowd roaring again, as he rounded Jonny May, just outside the Wasps 22, and raced away down the right. He chipped ahead, and Cook was forced to tap the ball into touch at the corner. A Wasps offence allowed Gloucester to clear.
With 13 minutes left, Cook missed a relatively easy penalty. A minute later, Joe Simpson spotted a gap around the fringes and raced downfield, making 30 metres before throwing a long pass out to Tom Varndell. The winger seemed to have a clear run in, but a last-ditch tackle brought him down, a few metres from the line.
Wasps were now looking much more like themselves, and they kept up the pressure for several minutes, before Billy Vunipola picked up from the base of a 5-metre scrum, to force his way over near the posts. Nick Robinson’s conversion gave Wasps a 13-point cushion. He then stretched the lead to 33-17, with a simple penalty, 8 minutes from time, after another thrilling attack stretched the Gloucester defence.
With three minutes left, Ryan Mills ended a period of Gloucester pressure with a try by the posts, converted by Tindall, to give the visitors hope of leaving with a bonus point. The hope became reality, in the final minute, when a breakaway ended with Charlie Sharples going over between the posts that gave the away side two points.
Tindall missed the conversion. Gloucester tried to attack from the deep and kept the ball alive for one final attack, before being pressured into a penalty, inside their own half. The ball was thumped into touch, and Wasps were celebrating an important victory.
Wasps team: 15. Hugo Southwell (c) 14. Christian Wade 13. Andrea Masi 12. Chris Bell 11. Tom Varndell 10. Stephen Jones 9. Joe Simpson 1. Zak Taulafo 2. T Rhys Thomas 3. Phil Swainston 4. James Cannon 5. Marco Wentzel 6. Ashley Johnson 7. Sam Jones 8. Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay 17. Tim Payne 18. Will Taylor 19. Alex Rae 20. Matt Everard 21. Charlie Davies 22. Nick Robinson 23. Elliot Daly
Gloucester: 15. Rob Cook 14. Charlie Sharples 13. Mike Tindall (c) 12. Tim Molenaar 11. Jonny May 10. Ryan Mills 9. Dan Robson 1. Nick Wood 2. Darren Dawidiuk 3. Rupert Harden 4. Lua Lokotui 5. Will James 6. Tom Savage 7. Akapusi Qera 8. Sione Kalamafoni
Replacements: 16. Koree Britton 17. Dan Murphy 18. Yann Thomas 19. Jim Hamilton 20. Matt Cox 21. Dave Lewis 22. Henry Trinder 23. Martyn Thomas