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A Peter Richards try close to full time gave London Wasps a nailbiting 23-20 win over the Newcastle Falcons in front of a packed Kingston Park. The day started with Lawrence Dallaglio and Jonny Wilkinson parading the Webb Ellis Trophy in front of the 10’000 strong crowd. The conditions proved difficult to play in, as the powerful wind and bitter cold would force that extra bit from the players.
Warren Gatland’s side kicked off and were soon in control after only three minutes and a brilliant 14 phases of play, as winger, Tom Voyce, found himself on the end of a well-coordinated move and scored the first try of the match. The build up to the try was magnificent as the powerful Wasps pack drove and forced the Falcons backwards. The backs held on which allowed Voyce to score. One can almost guarantee that this try will be a nominee for ‘Try of the Season’. Fullback, Mark Van Gisbergen, who was given kicking duties even though Alex King was playing, did however miss the conversion. In his defence, the strong wind blew the ball off his kicking-tee during his run up, and the Kiwi was forced to attempt a drop-goal from the touchline.
Van Gisbergen’s next attempt was for a penalty. Joe Worsley was forced to hold the ball on the kicking-tee but once again the wind took control and the penalty was missed. Moments later the Falcons had their first chance at some points as Wasps were caught offside. Dave Walder lined up the kick, struck it well and the crowd roared as they thought it was over. However, the wind somehow forced the ball into what looked like a right angle as it veered away from the posts, to the utter astonishment of the crowd.
The second try of the game came from Scottish international Kenny Logan. The try started when Stuart Abbott chipped ahead, the ball was recycled and Logan found himself caught up within the driving pack of forwards and was on hand to score the try and take Wasps into a 10-nil lead. Van Gisbergen’s attempt at the conversion hit the post.
After 20 minutes, Falcons were penalised for not rolling away and Van Gisbergen landed the difficult penalty to stretch the lead to 13-nil
Falcons knew they needed to get back into the game and fast, and the best way for them to do it was to spread the ball wide. A long pass from Epi Taione to Ben Gollings saw the fullback race away and score a fantastic try. It was the first time in the match that Rob Andrew’s side looked like scoring and did. Flyhalf, Walder, landed the conversion that took the score to 7-13.
Just before half-time, Van Gisbergen was given a penalty from close range and it sailed through the post as Wasps went into the break 7-16 up.
Wasps had played the first half with the wind at their backs and knew that in the second half the ball would need to stay close to the forwards for them to drive on.
The second half started and Logan soon found himself amongst the forwards and nearly scoring again. This time the winger was driven forward but the ball was knocked on as he was crossing the whitewash. The referee asked the Television Match Official to take a closer look and it was a very tight call but the try was not given.
The powerful Wasps pack of Simon Shaw, Will Green, Trevor Leota and Craig Dowd, then continued to lay the foundation for the backs to attack. Fraser Waters, in particular, looked deadly and his pace and power allowed Wasps to gain momentum and get over the advantage line on numerous occasions. Wasps had everything going right and an abundance of possession; the only thing missing was converting that possession into points.
On 56 minutes, a rare Falcons attack saw Tom May break the pattern of play and score the home side’s second try of the match. It was scored against the run of play but was brilliantly executed from their backs. The ball went through the hands and May scored his seventh try of the Premiership season, which took him to the top of the leading season’s try scorers. Walder made no mistake with the extra two points and Andrew’s side were back in the match and now only two points adrift at 14-16.
With about 20 minutes left to play, Gatland brought on his replacements as John Rudd, Tim Payne and Ben Gotting came on for Logan, Green and Leota respectively.
On 63 minutes, Falcons took the lead for the first time in the match after Walder landed another penalty when Wasps were caught offside. Leading 17-16, the home crowd sensed a win and pushed on. Walder did have the chance to extend the lead, but failed with a difficult penalty attempt. Somehow Wasps found themselves with all the possession and no lead to show for it. As the clock said two minutes to go, something had to happen and it did. Peter Richards had replaced captain Rob Howley and the gutsy scrumhalf picked up from the base of a ruck, sold a dummy, handed off Gollings and scored the winning try. Utter relief was felt throughout the Wasps camp as with time and the win ticking away, Wasps grabbed back the lead. Van Gisbergen made no mistake with the conversion and with injury time to play, the Black & Gold Army had the 17-23 lead.
To add extra tension, Falcons were awarded a penalty in injury time from which Walder made no mistake. At 20-23, all Wasps needed to do, was close out the game, and they did, which allowed the side to secure their third Premiership away win.
Craig Dowd was named Man of the Match and described the windy conditions as one of the worst he has ever played in.
Gatland said, “It was very emotional for everyone. We knew it was going to be tough, with a full house and the World Cup. This was more like a ‘smash and grab win’ as we only flew up in this morning and will be flying out very soon. I’m very happy.