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Leading at the break, after a fine Riki Flutey try, the powerful Bath pack took hold of the game in the second half, and eventually denied the visitors a bonus point as they secured the double over the men in black and gold.
This was a tight, competitive game, in which the home side were rarely allowed to show the attacking rugby which has taken them to such a strong position in the table. Despite a heroic defensive display, Wasps were starved of possession, and did well to hold out until Bath’s late try put them ahead.
Bath took the lead in the fifth minute when Wasps were penalised at a scrum on their 22, and Butch James landed a simple kick from in front of the posts.
Two minutes later the home side transgressed at the breakdown and Danny Cipriani levelled things with a fine kick from the ten-metre line.
After eleven minutes, Wasps appeared to have suffered yet another injury blow, when skipper Serge Betsen went off, to be replaced by Tom Rees.
Bath then mounted their first serious attack, when right winger Joe Maddock was sent clear down the right wing. He chipped ahead and gathered his own kick, deep inside the 22, but was stopped by a good covering tackle from Joe Simpson. When the ball was worked back inside, Alex Crockett broke one tackle, but the ball was then knocked on, giving Wasps the put-in to the scrum from which they cleared their lines.
After Bath were penalised at the breakdown, Cipriani found touch on their 10-metre line, and Justin Harrison was caught offside at the lineout, giving Cipriani a penalty chance but his 40-metre kick was pulled wide.
Wasps came close to the game’s opening try, when they won a scrum on the Bath 22, and Joe Worsley went through a gap, but his pass went astray a few metres short of the line.
With nearly 25 minutes gone, Wasps put together their most sustained attack of the night with a move which went through a series of phases, and went back and forth across the pitch, until Dominic Waldouck was held in the tackle, and Bath were awarded a scrum on their 22.
To the surprise of many after the nasty blow to his face, Betsen then returned to the field to generous applause from the home crowd. A minute later, James sent Lee Mears racing through a gap in the defence and a try seemed certain, but a low pass was knocked on on the Wasps 22 with the line beckoning.
With 9 minutes of normal time left, Wasps were caught offside just outside their 22 and James put his side back in front, with a straightforward kick.
Wasps came straight back, with a beautifully created try, when Cipriani’s delicate inside pass sent Waldouck through a gap. He found Flutey in support and the England centre had a 15-metre run-in for a fine score, which Cipriani could not convert. Two minutes later, the fly half made up for that miss, with a much more difficult penalty from 50 metres to stretch the lead to 11-6.
Bath were well on top in the scrums and it was no surprise when another powerful shove won them a penalty, 37 metres out. James landed his third successful kick, to narrow the gap to two points.
The half ended with Wasps putting together another sustained attack in the Bath 22, which led to a penalty, but Cipriani’s kick was again pulled to the right of the posts.
The first half had been a tight affair, with very few genuine try scoring chances. Wasps will have been heartened by their defensive effort, which had given the free-flowing Bath backs little chance to show what they could do. Up front, though, the Bath eight had put the visitors under enormous pressure at the scrums, and it looked as if the Wasps forwards could be facing a tough second half. Had Cipriani’s kicking been on song – he had missed three out of five attempts - Wasps could have been comfortably ahead, but the narrow margin represented the closeness of the contest.
Wasps made one substitution for the second half with Bob Baker coming on for Tom French and Tim Payne moving to loose head.
Six minutes after the break, Wasps conceded another penalty at the breakdown, but James missed a relatively easy kick from 35 metres. Jeremy Staunton then came on for Mark Van Gisbergen, and moved to fly half, with Cipriani going to fullback. Wasps immediately won a penalty, just inside the Bath half, but Cipriani’s long penalty attempt, from over 50 metres, landed short of the posts.
Bath had another chance to go ahead when James was set up well for a drop goal attempt, just outside the 22. John Hart’s charge down saved the day and seemed to have set up a counterattacking chance, when the ball bounced favourably for Wasps, with oceans of space in front of them, but the referee stopped play with the Bath skipper, Michael Lipman, down injured.
During the lengthy stoppage, which lasted over ten minutes, Rob Webber, George Skivington and James Haskell came on, for Joe Ward, Richard Birkett and John Hart, before Lipman was carried off on a stretcher.
Four minutes after play resumed, Bath turned down a kickable penalty, in favour of a scrum and were rewarded when number eight Jonny Faamatuainu forced his way over, on the blind side. The successful conversion, from James, made it 16-11 to the home side.
Wasps immediately threatened from Flutey’s darting run but with defenders blocking his passing options, he chipped ahead. The all bounced favourably for Nick Abendanon though just ten metres from his posts and Bath were able to work it clear.
James Haskell then showed his pace and power, with a 30-metre burst from the base of a scrum, which led to a Bath offence, 10 metres outside their 22. Staunton’s kick narrowed the gap to two points, with 16 minutes still left to play (16-14). However within two minutes another penalty from James had restored the five-point advantage.
Before the restart, Wasps brought Rees back on for Betsen. After the Bath defence failed to deal with a long Staunton kick, Wasps had an attacking lineout inside the home 22. Staunton darted through a gap but was then penalised for failing to release the ball.
Sensing that one more score would seal the win, Bath piled on the pressure and twice went close, through forward drives. After another powerful close-range scrum, a simple James penalty put his side clear with four minutes left, denying Wasps a bonus point, and maintaining their own challenge for a home play-off.
With three games left to play, Wasps still have a slight mathematical chance of qualifying for the Heineken Cup, if there are seven places for English clubs. Points aside, pride is high on the agenda as the team re group and look to the challenge of facing Newcastle at home on Sunday. As ever your support will be key to the squad so show your colours and get to Adams Park this weekend – Your Club Needs You!
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