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When Tom Voyce went over for a try, seven minutes from time, the men in black and gold looked set to pick up a crucial win over local London rivals and four vital points that would have bolstered their assault on the league. However, as has been seen so many times this season for the reigning Premiership title holders, a last minute defeat was heartbreakingly to follow as Saracens winger Francisco Leonelli crossed the line just to two minutes later to give the home side back their lead and an advantage the visitors could not close.
It was another frustrating end to a game in which Wasps had played some excellent rugby, but the result has left Wasps with challenging battle to reach Europe with Saracens retaining their seventh place - seven points ahead of Wasps in tenth.
Going into the game Wasps made one change to their starting line up, with Tim Payne moving to the bench and Charlie Beech collecting his second Premiership start.
Opening the first game of a three in seven day run, Wasps were behind within two minutes after Tom Voyce gathered a kick ahead deep inside his 22. Instead of kicking back downfield, the visitors chose to move the ball amongst the forwards, and were penalised in front of the posts, giving Glen Jackson the simplest of chances to open the scoring.
After an exchange of kicks, Wasps were given a good attacking position when fullback Chris Wyles dropped Danny Cipriani’s long clearance, just inside his 22. From the scrum Wasps moved the ball along the line and the home side were penalised in midfield, giving the fly half a straightforward kick at goal to level the scores.
Wasps were beginning to gather some momentum, and turnover ball just outside their 22 gave Cipriani the chance to go through a gap and take play up to halfway - but the move ended with a knock-on. Saracens then threatened and with Wasps skipper Tom Rees lying injured near halfway, the home side forced their way into the 22, but lost possession. From the scrum, Dan Leo’s powerful charge made good ground before yet another knock-on spoiled a promising position.
With 12 minutes gone, Tim Payne came on for Pat Barnard leaving the field with a nasty cut to the head, before Jackson was off target with a 40-metre drop at goal. Two minutes later, Wasps were caught offside just outside their 22 and the fly half put his side back in front taking the score to 6-3.
Wasps were soon back on the attack, after defensive pressure forced a handling error in midfield, and Simon Shaw’s fly hack set up a lineout near the corner following Josh Lewsey’s strong chase. Possession was secured but Saracens won a turnover and launched a counterattack before conceding another penalty - and Cipriani landed a fine kick to make it 6-6 with 16 minutes of the half left.
Saracens were within a whisker of scoring the game’s opening try, when Justin Marshall raced through a gap to find Francisco Leonelli in support, however the defence managed to bundle him into touch at the corner.
Cipriani then set Wasps fans roaring with a brave mark under pressure. He then took a quick tap and a blistering burst of pace took him well over halfway, before Saracens stopped the move. A counterattack of their own ended with another simple penalty for Jackson, to put his side back in front. Cipriani and Lewsey then combined to send Dominic Waldouck streaking away on a thrilling run down the left wing. He managed to get over in the corner, but only after Jackson’s desperate tackle had forced his outside arm into touch and the TMO correctly ruled that no try had been scored.
Saracens were next to threaten the line after Jackson’s perfectly judged chip bounced kindly for Brad Barritt. The centre was stopped a few metres short, but Wasps were penalised, and Jackson’s fourth successful kick put his side six points ahead, with two minutes of the half left.
Wasps came straight back and a powerful run by Lewsey set up a threatening position which was lost by another offence in the shadow of the posts. With the final play of the half, the lively Joe Simpson almost went over in the corner after pouncing on a loose ball and racing down the touchline.
The visitors had won the lion’s share of the possession and the backs had looked dangerous on occasions, but a combination of turnovers, penalties and handling errors meant that they’d failed to turn possession and territory into points and went in three point behind at half time.
With all to play for in what was set to be a big second half, Wasps made one change with Richard Birkett replacing Simon Shaw. Almost immediately, a blood injury saw Mark Van Gisbergen replaced by Lachlan Mitchell. The Australian got into the action from the off when he fielded a clearance kick and combined with Tom Voyce to begin a sustained multi-phased attack, which saw Wasps go close on both sides of the field before the move ended with a knock-on near the left corner. Another counterattack from a kick, this time started by Lewsey, took play deep into the home 22, before the ball was buried beneath a pile of bodies and the referee awarded Saracens the put-in to a scrum in front of their posts. Wasps continued to hammer away, but several minutes of pressure were ended when the home side won a vital turnover and cleared to halfway.
As Dan Leo limped off, to be replaced by Marty Veale 13 minutes into the half, Cipriani’s penalty from inside his own half came back off the post. Waldouck was first to the rebound, to keep up the pressure, but Wasps were forced into touch on the left. They continued to press and were soon rewarded for their efforts with another penalty, this time inside the 22, and just to the left of the posts. Cipriani made no mistake, to narrow the gap to three points, 12-9.
After aggressive tackling won a turnover in Saracens territory, Simpson showed his attacking threat when he raced through a gap to find his way deep into the 22. However he was forced back across the field and possession was turned over. As the game entered its final quarter, TV stats showed that Wasps had spent 37 percent of the half in their opponents’ 22 and 77 percent in their half, and three points had been scant reward for such dominance. It was Saracens who came close to snatching the next score when Jackson’s snap drop at goal was just wide. Despite that miss the fly half’s accurate kicking was now keeping Wasps pinned down in their own half.
A turnover in the 22 eventually gave them the chance to lift the pressure, and Josh Lewsey’s long run down the left took play back to the Saracens 22, before Cipriani missed a penalty with ten minutes left. Another Simpson run opened up the defence, but a pass out to the left went slightly forwards. With seven minutes on the clock, Wasps finally crossed the line when Voyce won the race to Van Gisbergen’s chip, just before the ball rolled into touch. Cipriani’s conversion attempt from the touchline, was short and wide but the side were now two points ahead. The lead was short lived though as a sharp Saracens move down the right saw Leonelli dart over for a match winning try, which Jackson converted to put his side 19-14 ahead.
Wasps threw everything into a last-ditch attempt to snatch the points, but the home side hung on for a win which could prove crucial in qualification for next season’s Heineken Cup.
With four games left, Wasps now have it all to do. With a tough midweek clash at the Rec on Wednesday the action then resumes on home turf as Newcastle Falcons swoop into Adams Park next Sunday, KO 3pm. Your support will be vital as the team will look to continue their strong run of home form and keep the focus on each game as must win with all eyes on those top six places.
Be sure to show your colours on home turf and help inspire the team to victory at Adams Park – Your Club Needs You! If you have yet to secure your place in the stands then call the ticket office 0870 414 1515 or go online here .