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Wasps secured the win they needed, to give themselves a great chance of a home Quarter Final in the Amlin Challenge Cup – but they were severely tested by a Dragons side which had nothing to play for but pride. Wasps were hanging on at the end, as some lethal counter-attacks threatened to snatch victory – but they survived, and must now wait for the remaining matches of the weekend, to learn who awaits them, and where, in the last eight.
Dragons had a chance to go ahead after just 49 seconds, when Wasps were caught offside, 5 metres outside their 22, and 15 metres in from the left touchline. It was a simple enough kick for Tom Prydie, but he made a horrible mess of it, with the ball only rising a few metres above the ground.
Wasps displayed their attacking intent in the opening minutes, with both Tom Varndell and Christian Wade coming off their wings to look for work. After 8 minutes, Wade had the chance to show his footwork, when the ball was spun out wide to the rest. He beat one man, before trying a chip ahead, which bounced into touch for a Wasps lineout, 15 metres out. The ball was won, but a penalty was conceded, when play came into midfield.
The home side responded positively, and a darting run by scrumhalf Jonathan Evans, after he had gathered untidy ball at a lineout just outside the Wasps 22, set up a good attacking position which led to Wasps again being caught offside. This time, Prydie made no mistake to give his side the lead, after 14 minutes of play.
Wasps came close to a try, two minutes later, when Charlie Davies and his back row caught Evans in possession at a scrum inside his 22. Dragons managed to keep the ball, and fed fly half Dan Evans. He went for touch, but his kick was charged down by Andrea Masi. Sadly, for Wasps, the ball rolled dead before the Italian centre could reach it for the try. A minute later, Nick Robinson was just off target with a drop goal attempt, from near halfway.
Wasps kept up the pressure, and a good run by Sam Jones took them into the Dragons 22. The home side were penalised at the breakdown, and Robinson levelled the score with a simple kick, as the clock reached 20 minutes.
Six minutes later, Dragons stole Wasps ball from a breakdown ten metres inside the Wasps half. They broke away down the left, and came close to a try. They kept possession, and, after a series of surges for the line, spun the ball out to the right, where they had created a huge overlap. The ball found Dan Evans, who did well to gather a low pass off his toes, and go over for a well-created try, which Prydie converted, to establish a 10-3 lead.
Wasps soon pulled three points back, when Robinson landed his second penalty, from in front of the posts. A minute later, the fly half was narrowly off target with a long-range penalty attempt, from just inside the Dragons’ half.
Almost immediately, an excellent Wasps scrummage won them a penalty on the Dragons’ ten-metre line. Robinson’s kick, from wide out on the left, came back off the post. Dragons tried to clear, but Jonathan Poff charged down the kick, sending the ball rolling over the line. Andrea Masi appeared to get the touchdown, but the TMO ruled that he had not been in control of the ball.
Wasps made a mess of the ensuing Dragons scrummage, to earn themselves the put-in. Another fine shove sent the home side back towards the line, and the referee awarded a penalty try, which Robinson converted, to give Wasps a 13-10 lead, with just under four minutes of the half to play.
On the stroke of halftime, Zak Taulafo was pulled up for a piece of foul play spotted by the assistant referee, and Tom Prydie levelled the scores, with a penalty from the 22, 15 metres in from touch.
Dragons posed the first threat of the second half, after Wasps were penalised for coming in at the side, a few metres inside the home half. The penalty set up a lineout just outside the Wasps 22, and the home pack drove powerfully down the left, before moving the ball infield, where Toby Faletau’s slick pass sent prop Phil Price charging through a gap. He was stopped a few metres out, but quick ball was fed to Dan Evans who sent a kick towards the corner, where Tom Varndell and opposite number Will Harries both went for the ball, but it went into touch in goal.
A strong charge by Billy Vunipola then set up a Wasps attack, in which an incisive run by Hugo Southwell took play deep into the 22, where Dragons were penalised. Robinson failed to land the penalty, and Wasps then lost the services of Vunipola, who limped off, after several minutes of treatment. He was replaced by James Cannon, who went into the second row, with Joe Launchbury going into the back row.
Tactical replacements saw Joe Simpson and Rhys Thomas taking the places of Charlie Davies and Tom Lindsay, before Dragons retook the lead, with another Prydie penalty, from close range, after 52 minutes.
Two minutes later, Wasps turned down two kickable penalties, choosing instead to go for the corner. The second began their best period of controlled play of the game, in which they went wide on the right and the left, before Nick Robinson chipped through the advancing defence and won the race to the ball, for a fine try, which he converted himself, to make the score 20-16, after 58 minutes.
Straight from the restart, another Wasps offence gave Prydie a kick at goal, from just outside the 22, but this time he was off target.
Stephen Jones then came on for Robinson, as the game entered the final quarter. Three minutes later, Dragons were penalised right on the centre spot (Newport County FC also play at Rodney Parade). Elliot Daly went for goal, but his kick lacked his usual power, and fell well short.
Tim Payne was the next Wasps replacement, taking the place of Zak Taulafo. He was soon followed by Matt Everard, who came on for Jonathan Poff, with 11 minutes left.
A minute later, Prydie missed another kickable penalty, after Wasps failed to roll away, at the breakdown.
With six minutes left, Will Taylor replaced Phil Swainston, as Stephan lined up a penalty at goal, from inside his own half. He made a superb contact, sending the ball sailing over the bar to narrow the gap to 20-19, and set up a nail-biting finale. Wasps’ nerves were then set jangling, as right-winger Will Harries broke away from his 22, to launch a thrilling attack which was only ended by a knock on, inside the Wasps 22.
One last breakaway by the Dragons threatened to steal the match, but Matt Everard’s covering tackle saved the day, and the whistle went, to the relief of Dai Young’s men.
15. Hugo Southwell (c) 14. Christian Wade 13. Elliot Daly 12. Andrea Masi 11. Tom Varndell
10. Nick Robinson 9. Charlie Davies 1. Zak Taulafo 2. Tom Lindsay 3. Phil Swainston 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Marco Wentzel 6. Sam Jones 7. Jonathan Poff 8. Billy Vunipola
16. T Rhys Thomas 17. Tim Payne 18. Will Taylor 19. James Cannon 20. Matt Everard 21. Joe Simpson 22. Stephen Jones 23. Chris Bell
Newport Gwent Dragons
Tom Prydie, Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Ashley Smith, Mike Poole, Dan Evans, Jonathan Evans; Phil Price, Sam Parry, Dan Way, Andrew Coombs, Rob Sidoli, Lewis Evans ©, Nic Cudd, Toby Faletau.
Hugh Gustafson, Owen Evans, Nathan Buck, Ian Nimmo, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Jack Dixon.