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London Wasps recorded their eighth consecutive away win this season with a 27-20 victory over the Rotherham Titans. Wasps scored four tries to secure a much-needed bonus point to keep the pressure on league leaders Bath, but it was not all plain sailing for Warren Gatland’s men.
Wasps went into the game depleted of four England internationals, two regular kickers and a number of other first-team players missing with injuries. The match started in rain and it took 25 minutes before the first points were scored. Wasps had a number of attacking opportunities, but a mixture of solid defence and silly knock-ons prevented the side from troubling the scoreboard. Ayoola Erinle set up the initial try with a blistering run that saw him brought down close to the Titans’ tryline. His recycled ball was picked up by his captain Rob Howley who popped a neat little inside pass to prop Tim Payne who dived in for a well-deserved try. Fraser Waters was installed with kicking duties but failed with the conversion as Wasps led 5-nil.
Gatland’s men pressed on and the home side were lucky not to go two tries down as the combination of Erinle and Tom Voyce stretched the Titans to the limit. It seemed patience would be the answer and all Wasps needed to do was wait for the gaps to appear and take full advantage.
The home side’s only really attacking opportunity of the first half came in the 34th minute when Mike Umaga caused Wasps to go into defensive mode. His upper body strength and eye for the gap kept Gatland’s side on their toes and eventually Wasps were caught offside which resulted in a penalty. Flyhalf, Jon Benson, was never going to miss from in front of the posts and narrowed the gap to two points with Wasps still leading 5-3.
Wasps went into the break 5-3 up but knew it was only a matter of time before their superior firepower would pay off. In fact, it didn’t take long as two minutes into the second half, Peter Richards crashed over for the side’s second try. It started when Voyce kicked a penalty deep towards the Titans’ tryline. A lineout was formed and the ball was given to Richards who was playing in his unaccustomed role of flyhalf. He then brushed aside flanker Ryno van der Merwe, stepped inside Giscard Pieters and went on to score. A fantastic try from him and with Waters landing the conversion to make it 12-3, Wasps looked to settle down.
Steph Nel’s side did get a penalty back through Benson, to reduce the gap to six points, but Wasps were in total control. Within 10 minutes of the second half, Howley scored the side’s third try of the game. The former British Lion intercepted a long pass from the Titans backline and ran 45m to score under the post. The conversion from Waters made it 19-6 and Wasps went in search of the fourth and bonus point. After Howley scored his try, Harvey Biljon replaced him.
Wasps went hunting for the next try and it came from none other than Richards. The flyhalf made another fantastic break to force himself within inches of the whitewash. The Wasps’ forwards then moved in and helped him over to score the fourth and bonus-point try. Waters missed the conversion but the job was done as Wasps led 24-6 with about 15 minutes left.
The Titans have failed to record one victory in the Premiership this season but they never seem to give up and somehow came back into the game. To be honest, Wasps let their guard drop and with it let in two soft tries. The last time Wasps let in a try was in the dying minutes of the home game against Calvisano. This time within the space of five minutes, Nel’s side scored tries from Andy Long and Colin Noon. The conversions from Benson made it 24-20 and Wasps were left hanging on.
The Titans pressed on and what seemed to be a comfortable victory for Wasps, turned out to be a frantic final few minutes of the game. Wasps were in great danger of throwing the match away but somehow got the ball out from their own half with a massive punt from Voyce. The play was moved to well within the Titans’ own half, which caused them to give away a soft penalty. With no kickers on the field, the ball was thrown to Biljon who calmly slotted the ball for the penalty. It hit the upright, but bounced over for the three points and Wasps won 27-20.
It wasn’t the prettiest of endings from Wasps and the side at the bottom of the league table managed to get a losing bonus point. Something only London Irish and now Wasps have given them this season. However, with so many players away or injured, Wasps did what they came to Millmoor to do and that was to win, and more importantly with a bonus point. Job done.