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London Wasps recorded their second draw in as many weeks in a scrappy affair at the Memorial Ground this afternoon.
In a game suited to the forwards, Bristol's experience dominated in the set piece and their pack frustrated Wasps throughout the game in the loose, good work on the ground by their back row allowing the home side to stifle any quick ball or attacking continuity that their opponents looked to build. With neither side creating opportunities that would qualify to be called try scoring, the penalty kick became decisive. Both sides missed kickable opportunities but at 9 points a-piece, Jeremy Staunton's miss in the final quarter was perhaps the costliest, and though Bristol might have been pleased with the draw, Wasps cannot have been satisfied with their performance.
Bristol kicked off, and though Tommy Hayes first Guinness Premiership start of the season began badly as he kicked the ball dead with his first territorial punt, his first place kick, a penalty in the third minute, was on target giving Bristol an early 3-0 lead.
Bristol's intention to compete at the breakdown made life difficult for Wasps scrum half, Matt Dawson from the start, but over-enthusiasm from home captain Matt Salter allowed Mark van Gisbergen to draw his side level with a long range penalty that crept over the bar on the 5 minute mark.
Stuart Abbott was forced to leave the field with injury after just 9 minutes with a calf injury. He was replaced by Ayoola Erinle, taking the outside centre berth, with Hoadley moving to the inside position.
Bristol continued to pressure in the collision zone, playing it tight in attack, holding solid in defence and looking to kick for territory through Hayes, who was starting to find good length on his kicks. Wasps, in contrast, were looking to pick up the pace but handling errors, combined with the pressure from their hosts, meant that continuity was missing from the visitors attack.
A second Hayes penalty in the 18th minute nudged his side ahead as Wasps infringed in front of the posts, and Bristol's confidence was clearly growing as Hayes chose to go for touch from another kickable penalty, awarded as the game entered the second quarter. Wasps continued to struggle for possession from the line-out, but despite his side's success in winning another penalty, the Bristol fly half was wide with his attempt to put his side 9-3 ahead as the clock passed 25 minutes.
Wasps' line-out problems allowed Hayes to continue profitably with his territorial kicking game, denying Wasps anything approaching an attacking position and little in the way of quality possession When Dallalgio's men did finally put together some phases on the half hour, Bristol were able to slow down the ball effectively, thus stifling any danger from their opponents though in the process conceding a penalty that allowed Van Gisbergen to re-establish parity with a straightforward kick just after the half hour.
The Wasps full-back had a chance to take his side ahead minutes later, after a stamping offence from Bristol winger David Lemi was spotted by the touch judge, but a poor contact to what was a difficult, wide attempt ensured the kick sailed off target.
A characteristic bullocking run from lock Simon Shaw launched Wasps forward from the restart, but Bristol's efforts to diffuse the attack earned Wasps another penalty. Jeremy Staunton, kicking from a similar wide position to Van Gisbergen's previous miss, was on target to take his side 6-9 ahead as the teams headed in for half time.
The second half was heralded in by some unwelcome wind and rain, but despite that some good handling from centre Hoadley to Erinle gave Sackey an early run down the win. He was forced into touch by the cover defence, and Bristol launched their own attack from the resultant line out, winning another kickable penalty opportunity, but Hayes' miss presaged a string of errors from both sides as the rain settled in.
A scrum turnover saw Perry combine with Robinson down the blind side, the winger racing into the 22 where Wasps' offside offence allowed replacement fly half Jason Strange to kick for the corner. A line out and series of concerted drives by the Bristol pack tested Wasps defence. And the pressure continued as Dallaglio's charge down of Strange's drop goal attempt lead to a scrum 5. In the increasingly hostile front row battle, Bristol's veteran front row turned the screw, winning penalty for Strange to kick his side level as the game approached the hour.
Things continued to go increasingly wrong for Wasps at the set piece but despite the scrappy ball Fraser Waters (on for Voyce who had left the field after suffering a boot in the face) threatened to conjure some magic. Taking a good line off Simon Shaw's run he looked for the offload that would get Wasps in behind the Bristol defence, but Van Gisbergen was unable to hold onto the pass and Bristol were again able to clear into the Wasps' half.
Jason Strange's pressure penalty in the 65th minute fell short, but the home side retained possession inside Wasps half. With 15 minutes remaining, No8 Dan Ward-Smith's weaving run launched Bristol on the attack again, though they surrendered a plum attacking platform from the ensuing scrum and allowed Jeremy Staunton to kick his side back into Bristol's half. Good handling by Wasps forced Bristol to concede the penalty, but Staunton's miss from a central position did nothing to assuage the tension with just ten minutes remaining.
With the clock ticking down Wasps frustration showed as they tried to force the game, looking to attack from some unpromising positions, but Bristol's continued domination of the set piece and unremitting hard work from the back row in the loose was enough to hold on for the draw at full time.
Pen: Van Gisbergen (2) Staunton (1)
Pen: Hayes (2), Strange (1)
Ref: Ashley Rowden
MOTM: Craig Short