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London Wasps lost their second game by a one-point margin in as many weeks at Welford Road on Saturday, Leicester squeezing through by 20 points to 19 despite a good Wasps comeback in the second half.
In a game played in perfect conditions, Wasps put in a more dynamic performance than against Saracens the previous weekend, and dominated in terms of possession for the majority of the game. However, fatal errors in defence and concentration gave Tigers openings and given a sniff, flying winger Tom Varndell needed no second chance, converting all three of his opportunities for a hat-trick in the first half.
Wasps began the match without the services of Joe Worsley, who was a last minute withdrawal, and the team had no time to settle. From kick off, Wasps conceded an early turnover. This was enough for Leicester. Quick ball left and Tigers found themselves with an overlap, Goode's cut out pass finding Varndell. The Tigers Express backed his speed to take him past winger Thom Evans and full back Mark Van Gisbergen, with Goode's conversion giving his team a 7-0 lead after 1 minute and 3 seconds.
Wasps settled however, and retained the ball well in a series of attacks that culminated in a drop goal for Jeremy Staunton from the 10-metre line. Straight running up the middle from Rob Hoadley kept Wasps moving forward in attack, and Sackey's break down the wing following a Hoadley run resulted in a penalty when the winger was tackled high by Sam Vesty. Van Gisbergen made no mistake with the wide kick, bringing Wasps back to within a point after 15 minutes.
Goode's penalty in the 22nd minute gave his team a 4 point cushion at 10-6, and a minute later Bemand's blind side break from a scrum handed Varndell his second touchdown of the day. Bemand had left flanker Dan Leo in the blocks, and his offload allowed the winger to once again elude the attentions of Evans and Van Gisbergen to dance down the line and score.
Goode's missed penalty in the 28th minute, following his missed conversion, set the pattern for a poor day with the boot from him. It also allowed Wasps to stay in touch, Van Gisbergen's penalty after 33 minutes pulling the visitors back to 15-9.
It was a short-lived recovery. From the restart Wasps forwards watched the ball bounce amongst them. Amidst the indecision Tigers' Shane Jennings was on hand to seize back possession and pass to Varndell, who took the easy chance to claim his hat-trick before half time.
We created chances today and we actually controlled a lot of the game, which takes some doing here.
Wasps almost secured an immediate reponse. Staunton's chip over the rushing Leicester defence bounced kindly for Hoadley to collect and offload to Erinle. The big man took the direct route, but though Paul Sackey took Erinle's offload and crossed to score, the pass was adjudged forward by referee Pearson. A consolation penalty chance followed soon after though, and Van Gisbergen took it to leave the score at 20-12 at half time.
A fifth penalty chance for the full back at the start of the second half was off-target, but Wasps were looking bright and determined and created another scoring chance soon after. The forwards stole a Tigers line-out in their 22 and moved the ball quickly wide through a couple of phases. It looked as if they might have overstretched the Leicester cover, but a poor pass from Van Gisbergen to Sackey meant the winger couldn't hold on to threaten the line.
The last half hour began with a series of errors from Wasps, made up in the main by aimless passes, that allowed the Tigers to progress the length of the pitch from their five-metre line to Wasps own. The visitors kept their heads however, and after Leicester returned the compliment with confusion in midfield, Van Gisbergen took advantage. A wide lateral run from him created space for the pass to Paul Sackey, who streaked away from the defence to score, Van Gisbergen's conversion bringing Wasps back to 20-19 with 25 minutes to go.
Staunton took over the kicking duties for Wasps next penalty opportunity, from the half way line, which he struck well. It was tantalisingly close, but the ball bounced off the post. Goode's attempt, also from half way five minutes later, was not struck so well, and was also off target.
With just a point still separating the teams and just over ten minutes left on the clock, the drama continued to the final whistle. Leicester's decisions suggested they were looking to kill off the game and claim a bonus point, thus denying Wasps their own consolation point. However, McGeechan's men were also confident that a win lay within their grasp, and as a result both sides continued searching for attacking opportunities to the bitter end.
Wasps looked confident as Lawrence Dallaglio's run off the back of the scrum set up the next attack. A long raking kick from Staunton and counter attack on the return from Van Gisbergen took Wasps into the attacking 22. Abbott took the move onwards, and his inside pass promised to be the scoring one, but the support was not on hand and the ball went to floor, allowing Tigers to regain possession and regroup.
Though Leicester then won another penalty just inside the Wasps half, Goode chose to kick for the line rather than attempt the goal. It looked to be a good decision as from the line out and rumble Bemand sniped down the blind, but Wasps defenders were alert and pulled him down short. Another penalty followed, and then a third, both of which Goode kicked to touch for the line out. Leicester were fully focussed on the catch and drive, but Dallaglio was at the heart of a stubborn defence that repelled the Tigers on both occasions, and finally won a scrum from where Staunton cleared the immediate danger.
Bemand looked to repeat his success down the blind-side with a break and pass to Matt Cornwell. The replacement centre chipped over the advancing defence and chased on, looking to have contrived the winning score, but he could not gather cleanly. Cornwell's knock on handed possession to Staunton, and Wasps set off on a counter attack of their own, though this was driven into touch at half way.
Leicester were back in possession with a minute to go, and though handling errors gave Wasps a sniff at a turnover, Tigers did enough to hold on, Andy Goode kicking the ball dead as the clock ticked down to ensure victory for his team.
After the game, Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan said, 'In many areas we played so well and we are very disappointed that we didn't come out winning.
'I think we probably controlled the game for the majority of the 80 minutes and there were a lot of good things we are pleased about. However, we conceded three soft tries. I think that was purely due to players switching off.
'We can deal with that. It isn't that we are playing badly - I'd be more concerned if we weren't playing well. We created chances today and we actually controlled a lot of the game, which takes some doing here.
'Despite the three tries we displayed some high quality defence, but we've got to look at some of our finishing. We probably blew three chances that Tom Varndell would have taken.'
Coach Shaun Edwards also paid tribute to the talent of Varndell. 'Varndell is a great talent, and it's exciting for English rugby to be producing players like this. His finishing was the difference between the two teams today.
'But we've come up with a plan for next time - we're going to lock him in the toilets before the game'
Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, McGeechan said, 'We've still got work to do to ensure we qualify for the play-offs, and that's a challenge for everybody involved with the top five teams. After that, whatever has to be done we'll be prepared.
'Our fate is still in our own hands. We've now got two wins to go for, and I believe we'll be there at the death.'
Referee: Dave Pearson