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In what must be this season’s most nailbiting game London Wasps held on for a tense 10-6 win over Bath. Facing a second-half onslaught, Wasps managed to hang on for the four points and in doing so cut the gap Bath had built at the top of the league table to just seven points.
The game was always going to be a tense one and both sides came into the game on the back of some impressive results. Bath had been unbeaten at home this season while Warren Gatland’s side had won their last six games on the road.
The game, played in damp, muddy conditions was never going to be a high scoring one but the intensity and pace at which it was played, made up for the low scoring.
The first points of the game came from the boot of Mark Van Gisbergen. Bath were penalised for not rolling away and the fullback was entrusted with kicking duties. Many people thought this game was a straight shoot-out between Alex King and Olly Barkley as both players are looking to fill the vacant England No.10 position. However, it soon materialised that King was still suffering from the thigh injury he picked up against Perpignan and would not be kicking at poles. Van Gisbergen’s first attempt of the day was on song and Wasps helped themselves to an early 3-nil lead.
The side, led by Lawrence Dallaglio, looked very powerful and took the game to Bath right from the start. It was only some courageous defending that kept Wasps out. Jonny O’Connor was once again particularly good, as together with Paul Volley and Dallaglio, the loose trio worked their way across the advantage line a number of times. This set up the likes of Tom Voyce and Josh Lewsey to exploit any gaps but to their credit, Bath filled the majority of those gaps.
On 20 minutes, Barkley was given his first penalty attempt of the afternoon and duly responded with a long-range effort to level the scores at 3-all. This seemed to settle the home side and they found some rhythm and started to stop the Wasps dominance. On 34 minutes Barkley was given another shot at goal but misjudged the windy conditions and the ball fell well-short of the uprights.
The first and only try of the game came from none other than Van Gisbergen. The ball seemed to follow him around like a magnet and the Kiwi was tested a number of times with the high ball. He was brilliant in coping with them and was rewarded with a wonderful try. It started when Wasps turned over the Bath ball. The ball was fed down the backline into the hands of former Bath boy Voyce. The winger found the smallest of gaps and raced into it. The ball was chipped ahead and Van Gisbergen won the race to it and left everyone for dead as he crossed over for his try. His conversion made it 10-3 and gave Wasps a slender but promising lead.
On the stroke of half time, Barkley closed the gap to four points with his second penalty of the day. It was in front of the posts and he was never going to miss. The touch judges’ flags were raised and Wasps went off leading 10-6.
Wasps’ domination of the first half was totally reversed in the second, as Bath came out looking to secure their fine home record and preserve their lead at the top of the league table. They were like boxers who kept punching away at Gatland’s men. Every attacking move was tried on Wasps, but nothing was going to give. Wasps have built a reputation for being very stubborn in not giving games or points away and this game solidified that statement.
Barkley had another two penalty attempts but the youngster missed and Wasps kept on defending. The game was literally played between the halfway line and the Wasps’ 22m line with the two best teams in the Premiership slugging it out until something or someone gave in.
There were two moments in the second half that could have won the game for either side. Bath charged down a Peter Richards clearance and looked to have scored a try only for referee Chris White to penalise them for being offside. Minutes later Lewsey looked to score the winning try for Wasps, as he intercepted a wayward pass and galloped away towards the posts. However, White ruled that the ball was knocked on and halted play.
In the end no points were scored in the second half, but Wasps held on for the win and emerged the happier of the two sides. Nailbiting it was, but Wasps have enjoyed away trips this season and the 10-6 win was enough to keep Bath within striking distance for the number one league position.