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Match Report

06 Sep 2008: Wasps v London Irish

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Match Report
Irish's Badge London Irish 26
Wasps's Badge Wasps 14
Fixture Type: Guinness Premiership Venue: Twickenham
Match Date: Sat 06 Sep 2008, Kick Off: 14:30
Referee: Andrew Small Assistant Referee: David Kurk
TV Match Official: Clive Leeke Assistant Referee: Andrew Watson

Wasps stung in season opener

Wasps' defence of their Guinness Premiership title began in disappointing fashion, with the champions slipping to a 26-14 defeat against an Irish side who were sharper and more clinical.

The try count was two apiece, but Irish were good value for their comfortable win, and Wasps can have no complaints about the result, even though they came agonisingly close to a losing bonus point.

The opening minutes all took place in the Irish half, after Riki Flutey's kick off was allowed to roll into touch. Paul Sackey twice fielded clearance kicks to launch counterattacks, before Irish were penalised for hands in the ruck on the halfway line. When they were again penalised for not retreating ten metres, Mark Van Gisbergen's kick at goal was struck well, but the ball rebounded off the right-hand post and Irish were able to clear the danger.

Play immediately went to the other end of the field, and when Wasps failed to win their own lineout, five metres from the line, Irish number 8 Chris Hala'ufia pounced on to the loose ball to dive over. Peter Hewat added the extra points to make it 7-0 with nine minutes gone.

Wasps then launched a counter-attack, after Josh Lewsey leapt high to gather an attacking kick. Sackey was sent clear down the right but after beating two defenders he lost the ball in the tackle. After an Irish attack broke down deep in Wasps territory, Eoin Reddan's long kick found touch near the Irish line but Wasps were then penalised for not releasing and the penalty took play back to just outside the Wasps 22. Wasps then stole possession from the lineout and a powerful burst by Tom Rees launched another attack, but the ball was again lost and Irish relieved the pressure.

On 15 minutes, Irish were reduced to 14 men when Hala'ufa tripped Reddan, who'd taken a quick penalty on halfway. However Van Gisbergen's penalty attempt from the ten metre line drifted to the right of the posts.

Irish stretched the Wasps defence out wide on the left after a slicing run from Hewat, before Wasps were penalised for handling the ball in the ruck. Hewat landed a simple three points, from almost in front of the posts, with twenty minutes gone.

Wasps looked likely to open their account after a penalty kick to the corner, however from the lineout the ball was taken through a series of phases, before Rees was penalised for going off his feet at the tackle and the opportunity was lost.

It was proving a frustrating half for Wasps, who despite setting up a number of promising positions let themselves down with basic errors. The worst example came within the closing ten minutes when James Haskell took a quick tap penalty just outside his 22 and then knocked on. Another handling error from Haskell, after he broke from the base of a scrum, set up an Irish attack, with winger Sailosi Tagicabikau breaking down the left, before Irish forced another scrum, five metres out. With the extra five metres of space allowed by the ELVs, a try looked on but the Wasps defence came up quickly and as Irish lost possession, Flutey's clearing hack was gathered and spun out to Topsy Ojo who came close on the right.

With three minutes of the half left, another Irish opportunity came, when Josh Lewsey failed to gather a high kick. Wasps were penalised at the resultant breakdown and Hewat judged the tricky wind well to land a fine penalty from near the left-hand touchline.

The ELVs then worked to Wasps' advantage when Irish carried the ball back into their 22, before kicking directly to touch. Wasps won the lineout and launched a series of drives, before Riki Flutey darted through a gap, however the Exiles defence caught him a few metres short of the line and the ball went loose. Irish counterattacked and came within a whisker of a second try after another run by Tagicakibau in the last play of the half and with the Irish fans screaming for a penalty, for an alleged off-the-ball tackle just short of the line, Wasps managed to make the ball safe and the half ended with Irish holding a comfortable 13-0 lead.

There had been little difference between the sides, in terms of territory and possession, but the key difference had been that Irish had made fewer mistakes making them good value for their lead.

Wasps made a change at halftime, with Jeremy Staunton replacing Lewsey and moving into fly half while Riki Flutey moved to inside centre. Worryingly for Wasps supporters, the opening few minutes of the half saw further handling errors and Irish came close to extending their lead after 7 minutes, when Delon Armitage's penalty, from just inside his own half, was narrowly wide.

With ten minutes gone Wasps brought on the England pair of Phil Vickery and Tom Palmer, in place of Pat Barnard and Richard Birkett. The immediate Irish response was to score their second try, as Richard Thorpe went through a gaping hole at a lineout on the 22 to stroll over unopposed. Hewat's kick gave his side a comfortable cushion.

Wasps finally opened their account after Flutey's break launched a series of phases with Sackey and Simon Shaw prominent, and a ruck was set up on the Irish 22. To the surprise of all in the stadium, Tom Rees, emerged with the ball from no where and ran in for the simplest of tries, which Van Gisbergen converted.

From the restart a superb pickup was needed by Flutey from a rolling ball near the line to save a dangerous situation. However he could only find touch five metres out and an Irish maul from the lineout set up another attacking scrum. The Wasps defence came up too quickly and were penalised for offside, giving Hewat the simplest of penalties from in front of the posts to make it 23-7. Almost immediately Irish launched another attack down the left and as Wasps conceded another penalty in front of the posts Hewat put his side 19 points clear, with 13 minutes remaining.

With the result in no doubt, the Twickenham crowd took to practising the Mexican Wave, a sure sign that the on-pitch entertainment was not all it could be. They were forced in to a temporary suspension of their exercise however when Reddan did well to gather a loose ball, which had come back rather untidily from a scrum, to dart through a gap in the defence and claim the second Wasps try, which Staunton duly converted.

Referee Andrew Small then called uncontested scrums, as Irish had run out of front row forwards and as the clock ran into the last few minutes, Wasps launched a desperate attempt to secure a bonus point. They came close when Sackey was sent away down the right, but his inside pass was adjudged forward. Another chance followed as Joe Worsley's desperate dive couldn't quite get him to a loose ball in the on-goal area and as the touch judge intervened to say that a Wasps player had been tackled off the ball, the referee awarded a penalty, rather than a penalty try. With no time to kick to touch for the lineout, Wasps took another quick tap, and after several phases, the last play of the game seemed to have set up an overlap on the left, but Tagicabaku's flailing arm cut out the pass. As referee small decided it had not been a deliberate knock on he called time on a disappointing opener for Wasps.