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They say you can’t keep a good team down and London Wasps proved that on Friday night with a hard-fought 17-12 win over the Celtic Warriors. After the surprise loss the weekend before at the Causeway Stadium Wasps, who travelled to The Brewery Field, home of the Warriors, needed nothing less than a win.
Warren Gatland’s side knew they needed to stamp their authority early on in the game, something the side failed to do in High Wycombe. However, the Warriors had the first chance of putting points on the board as John Rudd was penalised for an over-zealous tackle that was deemed high. Up stepped Ceri Sweeney, but the normally reliable Welsh international failed with the early penalty attempt.
Rudd, who came on in the second half during the round-three clash between the sides last weekend, made massive inroads into the Warriors defence and set up the only try of the game. British Lion and Welsh international, Rob Howley scooped the loose ball up and released Rudd down the touchline. His power took him well within the 22m line, where he was eventually brought down. The ball was cleaned up by the forwards and sent down the backline, allowing Mark Van Gisbergen to scramble over in the corner. The fullback, who returned from New Zealand only on Wednesday, showed no ill effects of any jetlag and his try brought up the first points of the game. Alex King, however, missed the conversion but Wasps took the lead at 5-nil.
That lead was stretched to 8-nil when Warriors’ prop, Gethin Jenkins, was penalised for a high tackle on Will Green. King was never going to miss from in front of the posts and duly landed the penalty.
Sweeney was given the opportunity to pull back the lead when Wasps were penalised for hands in the ruck. His successful penalty brought up their first points of the game to make it 3-8.
Wasps knew they needed to be aggressive at the breakdowns and their power around the rucks and mauls kept the Welsh side on the backfoot. This gave the side the opportunity to go forward which resulted in more penalties for King. The flyhalf added the extra three points to make it 3-11.
However, King’s opposite number, Sweeney, was not having the best of nights as flankers Jonny O’Connor and Joe Worsley put extra pressure on him. This seemed to rattle him and it spilt over into his kicking. Approaching the half-hour mark, Sweeney was given a rather easier kick at the posts but somehow missed.
O’Connor, who was named Zurich Premiership Player for the month of December, made massive inroads in the Warriors’ defence. The Irishman made a fantastic break that saw him run almost 40m. He came close to adding more points but his pass to Will Green was judged forward and halted the break.
On half time King landed his third penalty as the home side were penalised for a deliberate knock-on, thus sending Wasps into the break with a comfortable 3-14 lead.
The second half saw the Warriors bring on the legendary Neil Jenkins to replace Sweeney. The former Welsh international was brought on to kick his side back into the game. His impact was, however, halted as once again King was given another opportunity to stretch the lead and did. His fourth penalty of the night took Wasps into a 3-17 lead, which seemed to take the game beyond the Warriors.
The home side needed something to cheer about and to get back into the game. Jenkins duly responded with an array of penalties. His first came in the 51st minute; with his second in the 61st minute when Lawrence Dallaglio was yellow carded for a late tackle. The two penalties brought them closer at 9-17 and sent nervous twitches down the backs of many of the travelling Wasps’ fans.
Gatland brought on his replacements with about 15 minutes left as Phil Greening and Mark Denney came on for Trevor Leota and Stuart Abbott respectively. Their fresh legs stemmed the Warriors fightback but not for long as another penalty gave Jenkins the opportunity to land his third of the night. At 12-17, all that was needed from the home side was a try and they went looking for it.
They pushed on but some solid defending kept them at bay and Wasps held on for a 12-17 away win. The Black & Gold Army collected four points for the win with the Warriors one.
After the game Gatland said, “We came here to get a win, that was the important thing. We stuck in there, and it keeps our hopes alive. Our driving service was a lot better, and we gave Rob Howley a much better service.