On a glorious spring day, a near-capacity Adams Park crowd was treated to a wonderfully entertaining game of rugby, from two sides who were ready to attack at every opportunity. To the delight of the home supporters, Wasps produced one of their best displays of the season, to secure a bonus point win against one of their rivals for the playoff places.
An early penalty try, followed by scores from Tom Varndell and Dan Ward-Smith helped Wasps to a 23-10 lead at the break. They added their fourth try, 10 minutes into the second half, through MOTM Dominic Waldouck. Despite a spirited fightback by Irish, typically committed defence from the men in Black and Gold ensured that they were denied what could have been crucial bonus points.
The win lifts Wasps back into fourth place, a point above Irish, and three behind third-placed Saracens, who each have a game in hand.
Wasps looked focused and hungry from the start, and it was their in-your-face defence which set up the opening score, after just four minutes. Irish had won scrummage possession just inside the Wasps half, but had been unable to gain any ground and were being forced back into their own territory. Under pressure Faan Rautenbach knocked on a poor pass. George Skivington pounced on the loose and fed skipper Tom Rees. The ball was then moved on by Waldouck, Steve Kefu and Rob Webber, before Joe Simpson’s well-placed chip ahead found space behind the defence. David Lemi got to the ball, hacked on, and appeared to be winning the race to the line, when he was taken out by Steffon Armitage. After consulting his assistant, the referee showed Armitage the yellow card and awarded a penalty try, which Walder duly converted to make it 7-0.
Four minutes later, another Irish knock-on set up a glorious sustained attack by Wasps, which swept from left to right, and then back again, ended when the ball was dislodged from Lemi’s hands a metre from the line.
After nine minutes, Irish were penalised at a lineout near their 10-metre line and Walder stretched the lead to 10 points, with a fine kick from 40 metres.
Wasps came close to a second try, straight from the restart, after Mark Van Gisbergen fielded the restart just outside the 22. Good work by John Hart enabled Walder to launch a counterattack and the ball was quickly spun out to the right, where Joe Worsley in his 200th Premiership game, thundered his way into the Irish half before play came back out towards the left. Further superb handling with Skivington, Hart, Ben Broster and Rees all involved, almost set up a try before the move was snuffed out. There was then a break for treatment to Walder, who’d taken a heavy knock in a crunching tackle.
A series of scrums followed, with Wasps applying increasing pressure before they conceded a free-kick with the Irish eight already retreating at a rate of knots within sight of their line. Armitage then returned to the field and within a minute he was watching another Walder penalty sailing between the posts, after Rob Webber had snatched a loose ball and Simpson had raced through a gap to threaten the line before Irish slowed the ball a few metres from the line.
The Irish flanker then became involved at the other end of the field, after Van Gisbergen had again gathered the restart and launched an audacious counterattack. Simpson’s downfield kick was gathered by Ryan Lamb near his own 22. He threw a long pass inside to Peter Hewat, and, several passes later, Elvis Seveali’i burst through a midfield hole, created by a powerful surge by Seilala Mapusua. Rees just managed to stop Seveali’i, but the ball was moved out to the left and Armitage went charging down the left, being forced to touch a few metres out. When Rob Webber’s long throw missed its target, it was Armitage who seized the ball to launch a series of drives which ended with Mapusua forcing his way over near the posts. Lamb landed the conversion, to make the score 13-7, in the twentieth minute.
The gap was reduced to three points, after a rare Wasps handling error, near the Irish line. Steve Kefu made a halfbreak and fed Van Gisbergen, who came into the line at pace but couldn’t hold the pass with the line beckoning. Mapusua gathered the loose ball, to trigger another thrilling counterattack, which took play right up to the Wasps line, where Kefu managed to interfere with Paul Hodgson’s pass, earning himself a yellow card and giving Lamb the easiest of penalties from in front of the posts.
Wasps came back with the best of responses, after winning a lineout from halfway. Dom Waldouck wriggled his way out of an unpromising position in midfield to burst clear and send a precise kick out to the right. The ball stood up perfectly for Tom Varndell, who gathered at pace to race over in the corner. Walder could not add the conversion.
Irish continued to produce some enterprising rugby of their own, and one sweeping move, featuring a powerful run from ex-Wasp John Rudd, ended with a penalty, just outside the Wasps 22. They chose to kick to the corner, but knocked on from the lineout, and a great attacking position was lost. The visitors came close to another score, when Delon Armitage was stopped just short of the corner, by the combined efforts of Varndell and Van Gisbergen.
With a brief hailstorm arriving, there was a further break for treatment to Walder, who had taken a series of heavy knocks. To everybody’s relief, the flyhalf got to his feet, but only to leave the field to be replaced by Danny Cipriani.
Cipriani was immediately into the action, putting in an important tackle on Mapusua, when he threatened to break clear. He then put in a delightful chip over the defence, only to lose his footing, as he made for the ball in acres of space. This was followed by a sizzling angled burst through a gap, only stopped by Mapusua’s desperate ankle tap, as he neared the Irish ten-metre line.
Irish had been looking dangerous but the half ended with a magnificent try from Dan Ward-Smith finishing a move which had begun with a lineout, just inside the Irish half with the lock appearing three times, on both sides of the field. His decisive contribution came after Joe Simpson received quick ball at the breakdown, looked left, then went right to feed Van Gisbergen, and the fullback’s pass sent Ward-Smith over in the corner. Cipriani couldn’t land the difficult conversion but Wasps left the field with a convincing 23-10 halftime lead.
There was one change to the Wasps lineup for the second half. Warren Fury took the place of Joe Simpson, who’d been on the receiving end of a heavy tackle a few minutes before the interval.
It was Irish who posed the early threats after the break. It took an ankle tap by Van Gisbergen, a fine covering tackle by Tom Rees and a typical bone-crunching hit by Worsley, on Mapusua to keep them out.
Ten minutes after the resumption, the Wasps try bonus – only their second of the season – was in the bag. The result of a turnover in midfield after Irish lost possession following a lineout ten metres inside the Wasps half. Pressure from John Hart forced a knockon. Fury was on hand to feed the recycled ball to Kefu, who moved it on to Waldouck. Cipriani then popped up outside him and ran on to a perfectly timed ball at top speed. He spotted a gap, accelerated through it and raced 30 metres before passing back inside to Waldouck, who needed two attempts at gathering the ball and going over for a magnificent score which Cipriani converted.
With Wasps now twenty points clear, and the bonus point already secured, they began to use the bench, and a double replacement saw Serge Betsen and Ben Jacobs replace Tom Rees and Steve Kefu, with Rob Webber assuming the captaincy.
Irish immediately narrowed the gap, when Steffon Armitage forced his way over from short range. Crucially, Lamb pushed the conversion wide, meaning Irish were still three scores behind. Despite that, they sensed they were still in the game, proceeded to unleash some flowing attacks, with Seveali’i a constant threat and Joe Worsley eating up the ground to put it some crucial tackles.
After Zak Taulafo came on for Ben Broster, Irish appeared to have split the Wasps defence, when Hewat and Seveali’l combined well in midfield, for the centre to race through for the line only to be called back for a forward pass.
Irish were controlling territory, but were unable to split the Wasps defence, until with ten minutes left to go they were thrown a lifeline. Wasps won possession just outside their 22, but Fury’s box kick was charged down by replacement flanker Jamie Gibson. The scrumhalf did well to turn and appeared to have won the race to the ball, but slipped as he was trying to touch down and James Tideswell, another Irish replacement, was on hand to score their third try, which was converted by replacement Tom Homer.
David Lemi moved in to scrumhalf as Warren Fury was subbed and Paul Sackey took to the pitch on the wing. With Irish now knowing that they were one try away from two bonus points, Wasps kept the ball in the forwards, and some powerful drives both ran the clock down, and sapped the energy of their opponents. With less than five minutes to go, Tim Payne showed some delicate handiwork to send Jacobs away down the left. He was forced into touch by a high tackle from Peter Hewat, and Cipriani made no mistake with the penalty, to give his side an 11-point advantage which they were able to defend until the final whistle.
Wasps now switch their attention to European competition, and next Sunday sees them take on Gloucester, in the quarterfinal of the Amlin Challenge Cup. Your support will be vital so be sure to get behind the team – Season Ticket Holders don’t forget this game is not included in your ticket so book today! Call 0844 225 2990 or buy online here.