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<1>London Wasps kicked off their pre-season schedule with an entertaining, if not flawless performance against Division 1 title contenders Exeter at the Causeway Stadium. An appreciative crowd were treated to some great running rugby in the sun, as young winger Thom Evans scorched his way to a four try haul and new signing Jeremy Staunton threw down a marker with a perfect 10 out of 10 kicking record on the day.
It was Exeter who were first on the scoreboard however. Wasps were generous at the breakdown in the first quarter, allowing Exeter to turn over some valuable ball and keep themselves on the front foot. Excellent kicking from visiting fly half Adam Staniforth pinned Wasps back in their own half, and it was from a Staniforth kick to the corner that Junior Fatialofa pounced to touch down in the corner, winger Gary Kingdom converting for a 7-0 lead after 15 minutes.
With their tails up, Exeter again attacked from the re-start, and it was only then that Wasps got out of first gear, competing harder at the break down and putting some phases together to build a platform for the backs. Captain John Hart led from the front, levelling the scored for the home side just inside the first quarter. From a stolen lineout, Wasps moved the ball to Stuart Abbott, who fulfilled his pre-season claims of being fresh and hungry for some rugby, as he beat one defender and stepped inside another before holding up well in the tackle, a simple pop pass putting Hart in under the posts.
Staunton added a second try two minutes later with some great footwork, a quick tap from Reddan and break from Evans producing quick ball for the fly half to dance through the remaining defence and touch down again between the sticks.
Abbott was again in the action for the next score; he and long time centre partner Fraser Waters were a welcome site back at High Wycombe, and the partnership seemingly picked up where they left off at the end of 2004. An Abbott break saw him make 50 metres before being tackled, and from the ensuing five yard scrum Staunton fed Waters, who flipped up a cheeky ball behind his back for Staunton coming round on the loop, Evans cutting a perfect line off the fly half to go over for his first of the day.
Wasps were already starting to cut loose from the restart, a great handling move involving Abbott again, Reddan, Laird and O'Connor prompting roars of appreciation from the crowd. The move broke down short of the line, but from the scrum Haskell rolled off blind for the touchdown, Staunton adding the extras once again.
After conceding four tries in 7 minutes, Exeter could have folded, but clawed their way back into the game, denying Wasps another quick score and possible capitulation on their part. On 34 minutes however, Wasps back row showed their class with ball in hand yet again, Staunton popping off quick ball to Rees, who also looks back to full fitness and bullocking ball-carrying form. Rees's break down the middle took him behind the defence, from where he and fellow flanker Jonny O'Connor executed a perfect two on one for O'Connor to score.
With five minutes before the half time whistle, Ben Gotting left the field after turning an ankle, to be replaced by promising Academy hooker Rob Webber. With the turn-around in site, Wasps concentration took a dip, and they handed Exeter possession in attacking positions, leading to an interception try for captain Stephen Ward on the 40th minute, Kingdom kicking the difficult conversion from the touchline. It was Wasps who had the last shout before the whistle however, moving turnover ball wide and at pace for winger Evans to skin his opposite number and shake off the final tackle for his second of the day, leaving Wasps just short of the half century at half time.
Head Coach Shaun Edwards rang the changes at the turn around, as was his plan from the start. Eight replacements saw all change at prop, flanker and centre, with Staunton moving to full back and Thrower to fly half.
Exeter again were first to score after the break however, Mason sneaking over in the corner after just one minute, though this time Kingdom could not convert for the touchline.
Wasps replied after another two minutes, a miss move to Mbu and his pass out of contact leaving the Exeter defence narrow with space for Laird to stroll over for the touch down.
Evans collected his second half brace in the following five minutes, in two almost carbon copy sprints for the line. The first saw him run on to turnover ball and streak 60 metres up the far touchline, and with barely a decent recovery repeat the feat on the opposite wing two minutes later, Exeter coughing up ball for the Wasps speed merchant to screech past his opposite number again to record number four for the day.
Approaching the hour, Thrower turned his ankle badly, having to be helped off the pitch, and was replaced by Cambridge student Ben Dormer, in his first game in a Wasps shirt.
Exeter forced themselves back into the game with some forward drives, resulting in Mark Gabey being driven over for Exeter on 64 minutes.
The final ten minutes produced some scrappy play, as both teams suffered loss of continuity having used all their replacements, but lock George Skivington rounded off the day with a score on the 80th minute, Staunton's kick completing a perfect 10 from 10 for him on his Wasps debut.
Coach Shaun Edwards declared himself reasonably pleased with his sides performance after the match, deeming it a good start to pre-season but having some serious reservation about the solidity of Wasps defence. 'Our linking and finishing in the backs was strong, but defence was not it's normal self today, and we'll be looking to up that in the next few weeks,' he said. 'It was a good experience for a team like Exeter to be able to come here and play the Zurich Premiership Champions. It was also great to have Stuart and Fraser back on the park. We did approach the two halves as two different games, and that showed in our performance in the second half, but all our youngsters accredited themselves well.
Of Tom Rees, another returning from injury, Edwards said, 'Tom proved again today what a fantastic ball carrier he is, very, very strong and powerful,' and Wasps new Munster half back pair, Eoin Reddan and Jeremy Staunton also came in for some praise, 'I thought Jeremy was flawless out there, and Eoin did good too. It's not easy for scrum half to come to Wasps and fit into our game. Even experienced internationals like Rob Howelly and Matt Dawson took time to learn how we play and adapt their game accordingly. Eoin will get used to it though, like the others did, and get better and better as the season goes on.'
Staunton was somewhat harder on himself than his coach, 'It was good to get my first run out in the number 10 shirt and I enjoyed the first half, but we lost out shape in the second. We have worked hard on our attack in training over the last six weeks, but not so much on defence and today we were poor in that area. We conceded three tries from our mistakes, one of them mine, the remaining try was a good one by Exeter. The try when Fraser flipped the ball up behind himself to me was a pleasing one to come off, and one we have been working on in training, but the Premiership is going to be much more competitive than today's game and we won't have the luxury of so much time to execute that sort of move.
' It was also nice to share my first run out with Eoin. His service today was second to none, and having played through the age groups together, is was nice for us both to get our first Wasp starts on the same day.'
After showing some electric attack in their opening game of the season, supporters of Wasps should be sure to get down to Twickenham next weekend for the opportunity to sample more of the same, as Wasps compete in the Compass Middlesex Sevens next Saturday. Games kick off at 11am. Click here for more information about the day and how to get tickets.
Tries: Hart, Staunton, Evans 4, Haskell, O'Connor, Laird, Skivington
Cons: Staunton 10
Tries: Fatialofa, J; Ward, Mason, Gabey
Cons: Kingdom 3
Half Time Score: 42-14
Scoring sequence: Fatialofa (5-0), Kingdom (7-0), Hart (7-5), Staunton (7-7), Staunton (12-7), Staunton (14-7), Evans (19-7), Staunton (21-7), Haskell (26-7), Stainton 28-7), O'Connor (33-7), Staunton (35-7), Ward (35-12), Kingdom, Evans (40-14), Staunton (42-14) HT
Mason (42-19) Laird (47-19), Staunton (49-19), Evans (54-19), Staunton (56-19), Evans (61-19) Staunton (63-19), Gabey (63-24), Kingdom (63-26), Skivington (68-26), Staunton (70-26).