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After a storming second half which took them close to a thrilling victory, Wasps went down to a last-minute try and a heartbreaking defeat.
With snow falling, both sides had early handling problems, but Northampton started the stronger.
After seven minutes spent mostly in the Wasps half, a fine run by Lee Dickson, from a lineout near halfway, took play deep into the Wasps 22, leading to a penalty near the corner. Northampton chose to kick to the corner. They won the lineout, the forwards drove for the line, but they were brought down just short. The referee ruled that the maul had been brought down, and awarded a penalty try, which Stephen Myler converted. He also sent Rhys Thomas to the sin bin.
The Wasps forwards responded positively, with a powerful drive of their own, from a lineout on halfway. It produced a penalty, a few metres in from touch, and Elliot Daly banged over a trademark long-range kick, to narrow the gap to 7-3, with 13 minutes gone.
Three minutes later, another Northampton penalty to the corner produced another catch and drive, and Lee Dickson was at the bottom of a pile of bodies to score a try right by the left corner. Myler’s conversion attempt was well off target. Wasps produced a superb response, when Christian Wade won a turnover on the right, on the halfway. The ball was moved back across the field, and Billy Vunipola’s long pass found Tom Varndell, 40 metres out. The winger raced away, shaking off an attempted tackle, to cross for his 12th Premiership try of the season, which Stephen Jones converted, to make the score 12-10.
Rhys Thomas then returned to the field. Within three minutes of his return, Wasps were ahead, after Stephen Jones was on target with a 30-metre penalty, in the 24th minute. A poor clearance kick by Varndell then set the alarm bells ringing, as it was gathered by Tom Mercey, inside the Wasps 22. Luckily for Wasps, the Saints attack ended when they were penalised for not releasing the ball, 10 metres out from the line.
With 8 minutes of the half left, Northampton again made effective use of their driving maul, making 25 metres before Wasps were penalised on their 22. The visitors again went for touch, and another drive yielded a further penalty, and a yellow card for Tom Palmer.
Northampton repeated the tried and tested kick to the corner, followed by a catch and drive. Wasps did well to repel the initial drive, but a series of further surges ended with Dylan Hartley going over near the right corner. The try was confirmed by the TMO. Myler landed an excellent conversion, to give his side a 19-13 lead, five minutes before the break. Stephen Jones pulled back three points, with a 40-metre penalty to make the halftime score 19-16 to the visitors.
After a frenetic opening few minutes to the second half, Northampton stole a Wasps lineout, a few metres outside their own 22. The forwards again produced an unstoppable driving maul, which made at least 40 metres, before Wasps conceded the inevitable penalty. As expected, the kick went to the corner, and the Northampton pack mounted another catch and drive. This time, the Wasps pack drove them back and infield. Northampton drove again, before releasing the ball to the backs, but the defence forced a knockon, a few metres from the line.
Before the scrum, Wasps rang the changes, with Zak Taulafo, Joe Launchbury and James Haskell replacing Tim Payne, Tom Palmer and Sam Jones. The changes had an immediate effect, as a strong scrum produced a penalty, and Wasps were able to clear to near halfway. They again lost the lineout, and Stephen Myler hoisted a high kick to the corner. Christian Wade knocked on, Northampton attacked from the scrum, and came close in the corner. They were awarded another penalty, which was sent to the corner, but Wasps won a welcome penalty.
Tom Lindsay had now replaced Rhys Thomas, and he immediately put in a storming run, to take play deep into the Northampton 22. Wasps then produced their best sustained attack of the afternoon, with a passage of play lasting nearly two minutes, and sweeping back and forth across the field inside the 22. Eventually, Northampton were penalised, in front of the posts. Jones made no mistake, to level the scores. Within a minute, Wasps were ahead, Lindsay’s barnstorming c harge punched a hole in the Northampton defence. The ball came out to the left, and Elliot Daly, from 30 metres out, showed extraordinary strength and footwork, to dance through a series of tackles and stay infield, before somehow getting over in the corner. After lengthy consideration, the TMO awarded the try. Stephen Jones’s conversion was well short, but Wasps now led 24-19, with 20 minutes left. They were also beginning to play with real confidence and putting the visitors on the back foot.
With 11 minutes to go, Billy Vunipola was penalised for not using his arms in a tackle, a metre inside his own half. Stephen Myler went for the posts, but his kick was short and wide.
With six minutes left, Wasps received their third yellow card, when Ashley Johnson was adjudged to have collapsed a maul, near his line. A series of penalties to the corner, and catch and drives followed, before Northampton moved the ball to the backs, and fine defence yielded a penalty, welcomed by one of the loudest cheers of the day. Wasps were then controversially penalised for offside, following a high kick downfield. Another kick to the corner set up the inevitable lineout catch and drive.
With the clock at zero, a series of thrusts ended when the visitors powered their way over by the posts, with Christian Day getting the finishing touch. Myler’s conversion sentenced Wasps to a heartbreaking defeat..
Wasps are back at Adams Park next Saturday, when Saracens are the visitors, in another important Aviva Premiership match.
Wasps team: 15 – Hugo Southwell 14 – Tom Varndell 13 – Elliot Daly 12 – Chris Bell 11 – Christian Wade 10 – Stephen Jones 9 – Joe Simpson 1 – Tim Payne 2 – T Rhys Thomas 3 – Phil Swainston 4 – Tom Palmer 5 – Marco Wentzel 6 – Ashley Johnson 7 – Sam Jones 8 – Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 – Tom Lindsay 17 – Zak Taulafo 18 – Will Taylor 19 – James Haskell 20 – Joe Launchbury 21 – Stuart Commins 22 – Nick Robinson 23 – Andrea Masi
Northampton: 15 Ben FODEN 14 James WILSON 13 George PISI 12 Dom WALDOUCK 11 Jamie ELLIOTT 10 Stephen MYLER 9 Lee DICKSON 1 Soane TONGA’UIHA 2 Dylan HARTLEY (capt) 3 Tom MERCEY 4 Courtney LAWES 5 Christian DAY 6 Samu MANOA 7 Phil DOWSON 8 GJ VAN VELZE
Replacements: 16 Ross MCMILLAN 17 Alex WALLER 18 Brian MUJATI 19 Tom WOOD 20 Ben NUTLEY 21 Martin ROBERTS 22 Ryan LAMB 23 Tom MAY