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A second-half try by Man-of-the-Match Pat Barnard appeared to have sealed a win but a late Irish try set up a thrilling close few minutes at the end, in which the home defence held firm, kept alive hopes of another end-of-season surge up the table.
The heavy rain which fell earlier had mercifully cleared by kick off time and the game began in bright sunshine, with a strong wind at Wasps’ backs.
Wasps were penalised within ten seconds of the start, but Shane Geraghty’s kick at goal was held up by the wind, and dropped just short. Danny Cipriani’s clearance from behind the goal-line was charged down giving Irish an attacking scrum. Wasps managed to turn them around, to win the put-in, but were then penalised, giving Geraghty a much simpler chance to put his side ahead and he made no mistake with his kick.
After seven minutes, a scrambled passage of play with turnovers and interceptions galore almost resulted in a try for Wasps when Sailosi Tagicakibau was caught in possession near his own line but the Wasps defence managed to get back to touch down. In the fourth of a series of scrums, Wasps mounted a powerful shove and referee Romain Poite awarded a penalty try which Cipriani duly converted.
Irish were immediately reduced to 14 men, when Declan Danaher took a Wasps player out, off the ball. After several frenetic minutes, which included an optimistic drop goal attempt from Cipriani, five metres inside his own half, Wasps were awarded a penalty just outside the Irish 22 and the fly half stretched his side’s lead to 10-3.
Geraghty had the chance to narrow the gap when Wasps were penalised at a lineout near their 22 but he sent his kick wide.
Cipriani’s long drop out appeared to be touched down behind the Irish goal-line, after Geraghty had apparently touched the ball, but the TMO ruled that it had gone dead and play was called back to the Wasps 22. The fly half immediately reclaimed the lost ground, with another long kick to touch. George Skivington, in his 100th game for Wasps, won the Irish lineout and a long passage of play ended with another penalty for the home side and Cipriani landed another good kick, from 35 metres, to make it 13-3.
Geraghty replied with a close-range penalty nine minutes before the break. Five minutes later, another powerful Wasps scrum resulted in a penalty near the right touchline, but Cipriani scuffed his kick from 35 metres. Irish came back and won a couple of turnovers to set up another long-range penalty chance for Geraghty, but his kick fell well short and wide.
Wasps certainly deserved to be ahead at half time. Their forwards had had the better of the Irish pack and typically aggressive tackling had forced a series of errors by Irish. However they had failed to create any clear scoring opportunities and several promising positions had been lost to turnovers. The feeling was that they may not have taken full advantage of the strong wind which had been in their favour for the opening 40 minutes.
Wasps were forced into an early substitution after the restart when Mark Robinson took a heavy knock in a collision with Seilala Mapasua, he was replaced by Eoin Reddan. Seven minutes into the half, Wasps were penalised at the breakdown and Geraghty was on target from 40 metres - narrowing the gap to four points.
Wasps then mounted their best period of pressure of the game, with Dominic Waldouck and Josh Lewsey both going close, before Pat Barnard forced his way over in the corner. After agonisingly lengthy deliberation, the referee awarded the try. Cipriani was unable to add the extra points.
Irish came storming back and made their attacking intentions clear, by spurning two kickable penalty chances, but a knock - on just inside the 22 gave Wasps a chance to relieve the pressure, and Cipriani added a 63rd minute penalty to put his side 12 points clear. A minute later an Irish replacement led to uncontested scrums – the seventh time that has happened against Wasps this season - and Richard Birkett was immediately sent on for Barnard. Irish struck back after winning a lineout deep inside Wasps territory. Tagicakibau slipped through some weak tackles to force his way into the 22, and the ball was spun out wide, for Adam Thompstone to cross for a fine try. Geraghty converted, bringing his side to within a score with just 13 minutes left.
Inside the final minute Wasps winger, Lachlan Mitchell’s magnificent take of a high kick inside his own 22, appeared to have made the game safe but Wasps tried to work the ball through their forwards and an accidental offside gave Irish an attacking scrum with the clock at zero. Play continued for over two nail biting minutes but the Wasps defence held firm and forced Irish back towards halfway, before the final whistle went to the relief and delight of another large crowd.
This had not been a pretty win, but it was yet another indication of the spirit of the squad. Irish have put in some strong finishes, in recent weeks, but they weren’t able to repeat those performances. Wasps’ victory was built on a powerful display up front, resolute defence, and tireless work from the back row of skipper Serge Betsen, John Hart, and Tom Rees, making his welcome return from the knee injury picked up against Harlequins, nine weeks ago.
Next week sees another tough challenge, with a trip to Gloucester, the only side to do the double over Wasps last year. Victory there really would re-kindle hopes that another unlikely comeback could become a reality. So now, boosted by confirmation of the belief in the club as 13 players renew their contracts for next season and beyond, all eye look to the next game on the road – another must win for the reigning champions.