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A fighting performance by Wasps was not enough to see off the Premiership leaders, but they can come away from Allianz Park with their heads held high, as they outscored them by two tries to one, and came away with a richly deserved bonus point.
After an entertaining opening to the game, it was the home side who went ahead in the sixth minute, with an Alex Goode penalty, following a good run by Chris Ashton, who had come off his wing to enter the line from a lineout 30 metres out.
Elliot Daly then showed his class, as he gathered an awkward, rolling ball inside his 22. He chose to run it back, and beat a series of defenders, to make 30 metres upfield. When he was stopped, Wasps won quick ball and Joe Carlisle found an excellent touch inside the Saracens 22.
A few minutes later, Saracens spilt the ball inside the Wasps 22. The ball bounced to Daly, who sent a huge kick downfield, to find touch in the Sarries 22.
Wasps were unable to profit from either position, and it was the home side who were winning more possession, but the solid Wasps tackling was forcing a series of knock-ons. One thunderous tackle from Ashley Johnson forced a turnover in midfield, and Charlie Davies sent another well-placed kick into the 22.
A minute later, a powerful charge by Nathan Hughes punched a hole in the middle of the home defence, and Wasps built up their most threatening attack of the afternoon, which ended abruptly and Sarries were able to pounce on the ball to clear the danger.
With 15 minutes left before the break, Wasps were reduced to 14 men, when Kearnan Myall was shown a yellow card for an illegal tackle, just inside the Saracens half. Alex Goode chose to go for the posts, but the range was just beyond him.
A Wasps penalty near their own line gave them the chance to lift the pressure, and another Nathan Hughes charge set up a good position on the Sarries 22. After a thrust down the left, Wasps came back infield and appeared to have an overlap on the right, but a fortuitous Saracens hand deflected a pass out of harm’s way.
Wasps safely negotiated the rest of Myall’s sin-binning without conceding a score and the immediate effect of his return was a powerful scrum, which produced a penalty, ten metres inside the Wasps half. Halftime came with the score still at 3-0, a scoreline which reflected the close nature of the contest, with the Wasps defence looking encouragingly solid.
Wasps made one change for the second half. Andy Goode replaced Elliot Daly at full-back.
With just over a minute played after the break, Wasps forced yet another knock, on their 22. The ball was quickly spun out to the left, and Josh Bassett raced away, only to be stopped by an ankle-tap from Neil de Kock.
A minute later, a threatening Saracens attack down the left produced a penalty inside the Wasps 22. Owen Farrell, who had replaced Alex Goode, sent his kick to the left of the posts.
Within a minute, a powerful Saracens driving maul sent Wasps back towards their 22. With the referee playing advantage, Saracens moved the ball out wide, and Will Fraser produced an impressive burst of speed to race over near the left corner. This time, Farrell made no mistake, to put his side 10-0 ahead.
From the restart, Wasps produced an effective driving maul of their own, to win a penalty just inside the home half. Andy Goode found touch on the 22 and Wasps won the lineout. The forwards were driven infield, before Ashley Johnson broke away down the blindside. He made 10 metres, but Wasps were penalised.
A Farrell up and under was then gathered by Wasps, and the ball was moved out to the left, where Josh Bassett showed his pace to beat one defender and cut infield before being floored by two tacklers, one of them Chris Ashton. Wasps kept the ball alive, but were penalised for crossing. The referee then consulted the TMO, to check Ashton’s challenge on Bassett, which was eventually deemed legal.
With 15 minutes left, a thrilling Wasps counterattack from their own 22 produced a magnificent try by Chris Bell. First, Josh Bassett broke away down the left, then play was swung back out to the right and Christian Wade produced an electrifying run which beat a series of defenders, before he was stopped a few metres from the line. He had the strength to stay on his feet and slip the ball to Chris Bell who arrived at pace to crash over near the corner. Goode was unable to convert, but Wasps were now back in the game.
It took just two minutes for Saracens to stretch their lead to eight points, after a powerful forward drive won them a penalty, just outside the Wasps 22. Farrell landed a straightforward kick, to make the score 13-5, with 11 minutes left.
Two minutes later, Goode missed a chance to get back within bonus point range, when he was off target with a 42-metre penalty.
Joe Launchbury, who had been cropping up in every Wasps attack, was then forced to leave the field, looking extremely groggy, with six minutes left, just as Owen Farrell landed another penalty, to stretch the lead to 16-6. A further 3 points came, with two minutes to play – this time, an excellent effort from the ten-metre line, a few metres in from the left touchline.
Wasps seemed to have set up a chance on the left, only for Chris Ashton to cut off a potential scoring pass, inside the final minute. Wasps went for the corner, and produced a sustained attack, which ended with Goode’s long pass out to Chris Bell, who crossed for his second try. Goode kept his nerve to land the awkward conversion and secure a well-deserved bonus point.
European rugby now takes centre stage for two weeks. Next Saturday, Wasps are in Italy, to take on Viadana. Then, on Thursday the 17th, they are back at Adams Park, for Bayonne’s fourth Amlin Challenge Cup visit in five years.
London Wasps: Elliot Daly, Christian Wade, Chris Bell (c), Charlie Hayter, Josh Bassett, Joe Carlisle, Charlie Davies; Matt Mullan, Carlo Festuccia, Jake Cooper-Woolley, Joe Launchbury, Kearnan Myall, Ed Jackson, Ashley Johnson, Nathan Hughes
Replacements: Tom Lindsay, Simon McIntyre, Will Taylor , James Cannon, Guy Thompson, Jack Moates Andy Goode, Ben Jacobs
Saracens: 1.Rhys Gill, 2. Jamie George, 3. James Johnston, 4. Alastair Hargreaves, 5. George Kruis, 6. Jackson Wray, 7. Will Fraser, 8. Ernst Joubert (c); 9. Neil de Kock, 10. Alex Goode; 11. Michael Tagicakibau, 12. Chris Wyles, 13. Joel Tomkins, 14. Chris Ashton; 15. Ben Ransom
Replacements: 16. Schalk Brits, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Petrus Du Plessis, 19. Mouritz Botha, 20. Kelly Brown, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Owen Farrell, 23. Jack Wilson.