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London Wasps have won the ‘Battle of Britain’ by winning the Zurich Anglo Celtic Challenge with a hard fought 20-17 win over the Llanelli Scarlets, at Stradey Park. Three tries from the champions saw Wasps home, but it wasn’t all plain sailing as the side had to dig deep and come from behind to secure the win.
Conditions were good for the first real competitive game Wasps have had for a while. The home side kicked off and it didn’t take long for Warren Gatland’s side to mount some pressure. In fact, Richard Birkett collected the ball from the kick-off and ran 20-meters, which allowed the side to get straight into their stride. Barely two minutes gone, Peter Richards was crossing the tryline for the first points of the match.
Matt Dawson started at scrumhalf and together with James Brooks, gave the backline the foundation to attack. The try came when Brooks, playing at flyhalf, drifted outwards and fed a neat inside pass to Richards. The England Sevens star, playing at centre, was given a big gap and crossed over for the try. Mark Van Gisbergen added the two extra points for a 7-nil lead.
It didn’t take the Scarlets long to secure their first points of the game, however, as Gareth Bowen slotted an easy penalty.
However, the home fans were soon silenced as the combination of Dawson and Brooks weaved their magic. The two combined to set up Ayoola Erinle for a try in the corner in the 11th minute. Brooks held up the Scarlets defence long enough to give Erinle the space he needed. The conversion was missed by Van Gisbergen but Wasps stretched their lead to 12-3.
Van Gisbergen was given the opportunity to land his first penalty of the game and duly responded allowing Wasps to open up a 15-3 lead. The remainder of the first half saw several chances for Wasps to add more points, but they all went a begging. The Wasps rush defence was causing problems for the Welsh Champions and this allowed Lawrence Dallaglio’s troops to counter attack. Richards came close to adding a second but the ball was lost on the tryline.
The lineouts in the first half were good, as Trevor Leota found his targets in Birkett and George Skivington. Wasps went into the break with their 15-3 lead.
The start of the second half saw Gatland bring on his bench. Henry Nwume, Mark Lock, Matt Priscott and James Haskell replaced Will Green, Joe Worsley, Josh Lewsey and Jonny O’ Connor respectively.
Scarlets hit back with a try in the 48th minute from scrumhalf Mike Phillips. The try was rather lucky as the ball was lost in the open, bounced in favour of the home side and all Phillips had to do was run for the line. Nwume tried in vain to stop him, but it was too late. Bowen added the conversion to make it 15-10, and to the excitement of the home side, they were back in the game.
The young Warren Fury was given the honour of replacing England World Cup hero Matt Dawson at scrumhalf moments later. Fury, a Wasps Academy member is currently an England U19 player. He joined the Wasps Academy set-up on a full time basis this season and looks set to have a promising career. His introduction to top level was fast as the Scarlets quickly made him aware of his surroundings. To his credit he held his nerve, and displayed some good skills.
On the hour mark, the Scarlets took the lead. Some good angle running allowed the home side to put Aisea Havili into some space and the big winger crossed for the try. The conversion was good from Bowen and for the first time in the match, Wasps were behind at 15-17.
Yet still Gatland had faith in his bench and brought on Ben Gotting, John Hart and Matt Priscott for Leota, Skivington and Erinle respectively. Wasps needed something and quick as time was running out. The turning point of the game came when Fury was targeted from his opposing scrumhalf, Phillips. Fury was blatantly charged down from an offside position and Phillips was shown the yellow card.
Wasps kicked the ball into touch, took the lineout and worked a wonderful ‘training’ move. Brooks threw a long pass to Priscott, the former Waikato centre, who found a hole and made some space, and then offloaded to Van Gisbergen who put Voyce into the corner for the wining try. The conversion was missed, but Wasps held on to win the Zurich Anglo Celtic Challenge 20-17. Peter Richards was named Man of the Match and Wasps will need to make a little more room for one more trophy.
Tries: Richards, Erinle, Voyce
Con: Van Gisbergen
Pen: Van Gisbergen
Tries: Philiips, Havili
Con: Bowen 2
Van Gisbergen: 0 con, x con; 0 pen; x pen; x con.
Bowen: 0 pen; 0 con; 0 con.
Man of Match: Peter Richards