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London Wasps suffered a surprise defeat at hands of Premiership strugglers Bath this afternoon. An uncharacteristically poor defensive performance by the English champions allowed their hosts to score three tries to Wasps one, and although Bath were shown 3 yellow cards for infringements at the breakdown, they were still able to dominate in that area and in terms of possession.
Wasps were successfully starved of opportunity, but despite this the best moment of the day came from a Wasps player, Stuart Abbott showcasing his elusive style of play in a fantastic run that, in an ideal world, should have lead to a memorable try.
Bath's creativity was not of the same order, and this was underlined from the opening minutes, the home team using their pack to hit up through the middle whilst Wasps wasted no time in moving the ball wide to give Tom Voyce a run with their first attack. However, it was Wasps who conceded the first try. A break from Malone put Bath in the attacking 22, and from there the forwards edged towards the line before Bell found a gap on the fringe of a ruck to dive over, Malone converting for a 7-0 lead after just 5 minutes.
The early score clearly boosted Bath's confidence despite another promising break out from Wasps shortly after the restart, Dallaglio and Worsley combining to take the attack onto Bath's 22 before referee David Rose whistled as Voyce looked to be away for a score. It was, therefore, the boot of Alex King that put Wasps on the score sheet after 12 minutes, with Malone's attempt to reply with a difficult penalty a minute later was off target.
today Bath came out with more hunger and desire than we did - Dallaglio
Stuart Abbott's sublime run from his own half to within 5 metres of the line just after the quarter hour was one for all Wasps fans to savour. Sniffing the gap, he split the first line of defence and then showed his ability to step off both feet to beat two more defenders before he was swallowed up by a last gasp defensive effort from Bath. A yellow card for Alex Crockett, for killing the ball as the Wasps support arrived, allowed King the opportunity for another 3 points, but he pushed the attempt wide and Bath were able to clear the pressure from the 22 restart.
Wasps launched another wide attack at the next opportunity, Lewsey and Voyce again making the yards down the touchline and into the 22, but the next score was from Bath, Malone slotting a straightforward penalty in the 24th minute after Wasps were adjudged offside.
As Bath's level of possession allowed them to become more dominant, Wasps had to live on scraps. Winger Paul Sackey sniffed at an interception following a speculative long pass from Malone, but couldn't hold on under pressure and it was another Wasps error, collapsing a scrum just outside their own 22, that saw a confident Malone kick for the line out and Bath back the pack to go for a rumble from just over 5 metres out. Wasps did well to hold firm, winning a scrum that allowed them to clear their lines, but the effort came at a cost as No8 John Hart was forced to leave the field with a dislocated shoulder, replaced by Jonny O'Connor.
As the game approached half time, tempers flared and handling errors crept in on both sides. Malone's attempted drop goal from his own 10 metre line reflected his frustration as both sides mistakes meant they struggled to put together fluid attack. Wasps did achieve some continuity following the 22 drop out however, and ploughed up to within 5 metres of the line, whereupon Andrew Higgins was yellow carded for lying on the wrong side. King pulled Wasps back with the resultant penalty, and Wasps went in 10-6 down at half time.
Winger David Bory ignited Bath's second half, his efforts setting up the home side's remaining 2 tries and winning him the Man of the Match nomination to boot. Early in the second half his run down the left wing gave Bath good quick ball in centre field which they moved cleanly to Steve Borthwick, who dummied Alex King before popping the ball off to Fuimaono in support, the centre wrestling over the line from short range. Referee David Rose went to the TMO to check the grounding of the ball, and his affirmation gave Bath a 15-6 lead, after Malone missed the conversion.
It was Bory again, taking an inside ball from Malone, who set up the platform for Bath's third try. As the home side recycled, Wasps defence again missed a crucial tackle and Malone took a short pass to plunge over from short range and bring the crowd to their feet. The fly half converted his own score to take Bath out to 22-6 after 52 minutes.
Ayoola Erinle silenced the crowd from the restart however. His 80 yard sprint to score saw him beat Higgins for pace round the outside, after a Wasps quick tap penalty caught the Bath defence napping. King's conversion closed the gap to 22-13, but with 25 minutes to go, Wasps still had it all to do.
They did not help themselves, conceding two penalties in their 22 in the next 15 minutes to allow Malone to stretch Bath away to 28-13, and giving the home side a one man advantage after Jonny O'Connor saw yellow in the 64th minute.
Referee Rose put his hand in his pocket for the 4th time as the game approached the last 5 minutes, Feaunati going to the bin and replacement fly half Staunton kicking the 3 points, but it was too little, too late and the jubilant Bath fans celebrated the final whistle and the 28-16 scoreline.
The Wasps captain and coaches were pragmatic about the team performance after the match.
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio said, 'All credit to Bath today. Any team that have been beaten as they were last week will be dangerous opponents and today Bath came out with more hunger and desire than we did.
'Today our defence was poor. We were flying out of the line and falling off tackles. If you allow the opposition to get over the gain line as regularly as we did today, you're not going to progress.
'Mentally, we weren't at the races, but people must be careful not to overreact to this result. We'll make sure we're in the right position at the business end of the season.'
Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan felt, " We were second at a lot of things today and we never really got control of the business end of the game.'
Coach Shaun Edwards also pinpointed the breakdown as a problem area, 'Turnovers killed us today. Every time we took the ball in, we lost it.'
Both coaches were full of praise for Wasps centre Stuart Abbott. Edwards felt the centre was magnificent, whilst McGeechan said about him, 'Stuart's a clever midfield player and he did exceptionally well today. But you can only be elusive if the platform is there.'
Pen: King (2), Staunton
Tries: Bell, Fuimaono, Malone
Con: Malone (2)
Pen: Malone (3)
Referee: David Rose