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Match Report

31 Dec 2005: Wasps v London Irish

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Match Report
Irish's Badge London Irish 19
Wasps's Badge Wasps 35
Fixture Type: Guinness Premiership Venue: Madejski Stadium
Match Date: Sat 31 Dec 2005, Kick Off: 14:45
Referee: Tony Spreadbury Touch Judge: Peter Huckle
TV Match Official: Bob Ockenden Touch Judge: Bob Mullis

Wasps see out 2005 on top!

London Wasps made it maximum points over the Christmas period with a festive five-pointer against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium this afternoon that sees them go to the top of the Premiership table - at least until Monday.

Opening try scorer, Josh Lewsey

The Exiles were no pushover however. Despite having edged a tough physical encounter against Saracens just 5 days ago, the Exiles were keen to prove their worth as third placed team in the Premiership and staged a gutsy fightback in the second half that forced Wasps to play with all their defensive guile to protect their lead and come back for the final, bonus point winning try in the last minute of the game.

The game started with both sides kicking for territory, and both also making errors that offered some juicy opportunities for the counter attack. Though the first quarter ended in parity, with two penalties a-piece for Mark Van Gisbergen and Ross Laidlaw, Wasps had squandered 2 good try scoring opportunities.

For the first, Dallaglio took a quick free kick inside his own 22, from where Wasps shipped the ball out to Paul Sackey. The elusive winger swerved his way into the last third before having the ball knocked out of his hand, but Wasps were able to rescue the possession and found themselves with an enormous overlap. Poor handling meant the opportunity was missed, but referee Tony Spreadbury had already awarded the penalty in front of the posts, which Van Gisbergen slotted over for 3-0.

The next opportunity came from Wasps best attack of the game to date. Jeremy Staunton made good use of first phase ball to put Voyce beautifully through the gap, but Wasps top try scorer possibly chose the wrong path to the try line, allowing full back Michael Horak to make the last ditch tackle and the Exiles to recover the ball.

The visitors were quick to make amends however, turning over the ball quickly to launch a counter attack and swinging the ball from one touch line to the other where Josh Lewsey ghosted through the defence for the first try of the match, touching down under the posts to ensure the full 7 points.

Joe Worsley followed up with Wasps' second shortly after, that could and should have killed off the match for the Premiership Champions. A line out to the back was won cleanly by John Hart, and McGeechan's men showed good patience in working the drive into the 22, from where Worsley broke through the splitting Exiles pack to stroll over, Van Gisbergen's extras stretching the lead to 20-6 on the half hour.

A good long-range penalty from Laidlaw shortly afterwards brought the home side a little closer, but Wasps looked to have the territorial advantage secured. However, some sloppy play in the dying minutes of the half by the visitors allowed the Exiles to regain some momentum, and though another long range penalty attempt by Laidlaw, from 58 metres out, fell short, his team looked ready to stage a fight back as they reached the turn around, albeit trailing 20-9.

We had to front up for the second time in a week, and we did it well

Given heart by their end of half flourish, Irish started the second half at full pelt but it was Wasps who had the first attack of intent, attacking wide from a line out for Josh Lewsey to get behind the defence. Wasps kept the ball alive and attacked the line through the forwards allowing Skivington to put Ibanez through a hole for Wasps' third try of the day, Van Gisbergen successful with the conversion.

Wasps continued to give Irish the chances however, as the turnovers that had been creeping into the game in the last half hour continued and the home team pounced on the loose ball to make their way on to Wasps' 22. As the forwards battered the Wasps' line, the ball popped out of a tackle, Bob Casey on hand to snatch it from the air and go over from short range, Laidlaw's conversion bringing his team back to 27-16.

A great defensive performance from Wasps, including Jonny O'Connor

Following a scuffle after the try, referee Spreadbury showed Wasps' captain Lawrence Dallaglio a yellow card and with the crowd getting behind the home side, a comeback was starting to look possible.

Van Gisbergen was successful with a penalty in the 62nd minute, but more indiscipline from Wasps at the breakdown allowed Laidlaw to answer with his own 3 pointer minutes later, and further tactical errors and poor ball retention by Wasps allowed the Exiles to continue to build momentum as the final quarter unfolded.

With plenty of intent but not much penetration on the part of the hosts, Wasps defence was able to hold firm as the game entered its closing stages, and although Van Gisbergen missed a straightforward penalty with 6 minutes remaining, Wasps managed to recycle enough ball amongst the general disarray of the final minutes to put George Skivington over in the corner for the last score of the game.

After the game Director of Rugby, Ian McGeechan said, 'We have played 2 very physical sides in the last week, in Gloucester and London Irish, and so we knew we had to front up for the second time in a week, and we did it well. It was one of the best defensive performances this year, and it had to be.'

London Wasps Scorers
Tries: Lewsey, Worsley, Ibanez, Skivington
Con: Van Gisbergen (3)
Pen: Van Gisbergen (3)

London Irish Scorers
Tries: Casey
Con: Laidlaw
Pen: Laidlaw (4)

Referee: Tony Spreadbury

HT: 9-20