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For the first time in three years, London Wasps began their Premiership campaign with a win in a hard fought battle to overcome a resilient Quins side.
In a highly competitive game, it wasn’t until the closing minutes that Wasps made the game safe with a penalty try, in front of a record 67, 684 crowd for the London Double Header.
The game got off to an explosive start, with a free-for-all inside the first minute. After consulting his assistant referee, Dean Richards showed Quins lock George Robson a red card for what looked to be a head butt on Joe Simpson.
Wasps found a good touch from the resultant penalty. Quick possession from the lineout saw the ball moved out wide and new signing David Lemi made ground down the left. When play swung back out to the right, a promising position came to nothing, as a pass flew into touch.
Quins mounted their first serious attack in the ninth minute, when Nick Evans went through a gap, but the movement broke down just outside the Wasps 22.
Wasps responded with a powerful driving maul, which went 15 metres before a knock on from the home side on the Quins 10 metre line.
Quins took the lead on 12 minutes, when Lemi couldn’t gather a delicate chip from Evans, just inside the Wasps 22. David Strettle was on hand to take the ball and he slipped it inside to Ugo Monye, who went over for a well-worked try. Evans sent his conversion attempt just to the left of the posts.
Mark Van Gisbergen showed great skill, leaping high to claim a kick-ahead, before wriggling past two defenders to find space on the right, but his pass sailed behind Tom Varndell and into touch. Seconds later, Wasps won a turnover and Varndell streaked away down the right. When the defence cut him off, deep inside the 22, the ball was moved back infield and recycled. Cipriani’s pace created an opening on the right, and he sent Varndell in at the corner for a superb try, which Van Gisbergen could not convert.
Quins came roaring back within a minute, when another delicate kick from Evans found Gonzalo Camacho on the left wing and he crossed for an easy try. This time, Evans was on target with the conversion to make it 12-5.
The next attacking kick from Evans was charged down on the Wasps 22 and George Skivington hacked the ball over the halfway line where a knock-on gave Wasps a scrum. Quins were penalised for not rolling away and some backchat meant the kick was taken forward ten metres, giving Van Gisbergen a kick at goal from 30 metres, and he made no mistake to narrow the gap to four points with 15 minutes of the half left.
Quins restored their seven-point advantage with an Evans penalty, after Wasps transgressed at a scrum just outside their 22. Van Gisbergen then added his second successful kick after a controlled forward drive set up a penalty just short of the Quins line. That made it 15-11 with half an hour gone.
Wasps supporters had their hearts in their mouths, when Varndell gathered a kick-ahead and decided to run the ball. He was caught in possession, but Van Gisbergen was in support to take his pass and find the safety of touch.
Wasps went ahead with two minutes of the half left, after Skivington stole a lineout near the Quins line. The ball was worked out quickly to the right and centre Ben Jacobs sent Varndell in at the corner, for his second try of the game..
In the final minute of the half, Simpson set the Wasps fans roaring with a trademark blistering burst, running all of 50 metres before he lost his support inside the 22. Quins were penalised at the scrum, Wasps took a quick free kick and Varndell came close to his hat-trick, when Monye narrowly beat him to a bouncing ball, from Cipriani’s chip into the in-goal area.
That was the final play of the half in which 14-man Quins had showed strength with their seven-man scrum holding its own. When awarded a free kick shortly before halftime they showed their confidence by opting for the scrum.
Wasps had looked dangerous at times, with Varndell and Lemi showing their pace and skill and Cipriani combining well with Steve Kefu and Ben Jacobs to launch some flowing moves and there was a feeling that another score could put them in a match winning position.
Wasps made one change for the second half, with Ben Broster coming on for Gabriel Bocca. It was Quins who made the stronger start, after a Wasps knock-on gave them the chance to spend several minutes in Wasps territory before a penalty enabled them to clear their lines.
Two excellent lineout takes from Richard Birkett then launched rolling mauls, which took play deep into the Quins 22, before it was Wasps’ turn to be penalised in a promising position. A few minutes later, Wasps were again frustrated, after a strong run by Jacobs and a wriggling burst by Cipriani ended with another penalty to Quins.
It was Quins who posed the next threat, when Simpson was caught in possession on their 22. The ball was kicked downfield, Lemi couldn’t gather an awkward bouncing ball and Cipriani scrambled it into touch near his own line.
Wasps came close to a third try, with a lightning burst from Lemi being stopped just short of the line. Several further thrusts were held up, before Quins were penalised and Van Gisbergen landed a simple kick from in front of the posts to make it 19-15, just into the final quarter.
Another Wasps handling error gave Quins an attacking opportunity, but Wasps won possession near their own line and another counterattack ended when Varndell was forced into touch on halfway.
With 12 minutes left, Evans had a difficult chance to narrow the gap to a single point, with a penalty from near the right touchline, but his kick drifted just wide.
With just under seven minutes on the clock, Wasps were awarded a penalty inside the Quins 22. Rather than going for three points they chose to kick to the corner. Another effective lineout set up a forward drive, and this time, it brought a score when the referee awarded a penalty try which Van Gisbergen duly converted to make it 26-15.
Captain and MOTM Serge Betsen
With time ticking away, Hugo Ellis replaced John Hart, who’d put in a typically hardworking performance, and Warren Fury came on for Joe Simpson. Inside the final minute, Quins centre Jordan Turner-Hall was sin binned and Wasps launched one final attack, in pursuit of the bonus point, but they couldn’t apply the finishing touch, and the game ended with Quins counterattacking strongly, well after the clock passed zero.
A victorious start to the season for Wasps and next up another hard battle with a trip to the Rec.
15 Mark Van Gisbergen
14 Tom Varndell
13 Ben Jacobs
12 Steve Kefu
11 David Lemi
10 Danny Cipriani
9 Joe Simpson
1 Tim Payne
2 Rob Webber
3 Gabriel Bocca
4 George Skivington
5 Richard Birkett
6 John Hart
7 Serge Betsen (c)
8 Dan Ward-Smith
16 Joe Ward 17 Ben Broster 18 Bob Baker 19 Dan Leo 20 Hugo Ellis 21 Warren Fury 22 Dave Walder 23 Lachlan Mitchell
15 Ugo Monye 14 David Strettle 13 Gonzalo Tiesi 12 Jordan Turner-Hall 11 Gonzalo Camacho 10 Nick Evans 9 Danny Care 1 Ceri Jones 2 Gary Botha 3 Mark Lambert 4 James Percival 5 George Robson 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Will Skinner (c) 8 Nick Easter
16 Aston Croall 17 Tani Fuga 18 John Andress 19 Jim Evans 20 Tom Guest 21 Steve So’oialo 22 Rory Clegg 23 George Lowe