Wasps completely dominated in the early stages, before a rousing fightback by the home side almost pulled off an improbable win.
With three tries inside the first 23 minutes, and the home defence torn to shreds by some magnificent rugby, a bonus point seemed a formality for Wasps. However, the home side fought their way back into the game after Dominic Waldouck, who scored the first two tries and provided the scoring pass for the third, went off with an ankle injury. They ended up tantalisingly close to stealing the victory, which would have provided an enormous boost to their chances of Premiership survival, but Wasps held on to secure a crucial win of their own.
Wasps made one late change to their squad, after David Lemi failed a fitness test on the calf injury which had ruled him out of last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup win over Gloucester. His place on the bench was taken by half back Warren Fury.
Wasps made a lively start to the match, after Worcester dropped Danny Cipriani’s high, hanging kickoff. They moved the ball out wide from the ensuing scrum and Ben Jacobs came into the line to create an overlap, but his flipped pass failed to find Paul Sackey who’d come in off his wing.
It was Jacobs whose counterattack set up the opening score, though, just two minutes later. He chased his own kick into the Worcester half, the ball was recycled to the left, Steve Kefu sliced through a gap and sent Waldouck in for a well-executed try, which Cipriani converted.
Jacobs immediately launched another counterattack, with Kefu again combining well with Waldouck, but the pass to Tom Varndell was slightly astray.
Wasps were running the ball at every opportunity, and posing a constant threat, but couldn't quite manage to find the killer pass. Worcester finally escaped from their own territory after 14 minutes and were rewarded with a penalty on halfway, but Pennell’s kick was short and wide. The home side continued to press, and began to ask questions of their own, before another Wasps infringement inside the 22 gave Willie Walker a straightforward penalty to make the score 7-3 with 18 minutes gone.
Within a minute, Wasps had stretched their lead. They won the ball from a scrum, just outside the Worcester 22. Joe Simpson, under severe pressure from the Worcester back row, did well to get the ball away to Cipriani. A simple scissors with Waldouck sent the centre through the defence, without a finger being laid on him, and he danced over for his second try, right under the posts, which Cipriani converted.
Waldouck played a key role in the third try too, which followed four minutes later. Cipriani gathered a long kick, inside his 22, and fed Varndell who kicked ahead. The ball bounced into the hands of Paul Sackey who sent Waldouck away. The in-form centre was brought down just short of the line but he managed to offload to the supporting Tom Rees, who went over unopposed, and Cipriani added the extra points.
Wasps almost scored a fourth try after a scintillating burst from Cipriani set up another incisive counterattack. George Skivington was stopped a few metres out and Wasps were penalised at the breakdown. Another flowing move was called back for a forward pass, after an impressive run by Sackey.
Waldouck, who’d had his ankle strapped after his first try, was replaced by Mark Van Gisbergen and Jacobs moved into the centre. Worcester fought back and, after turning down a simple penalty kick at goal, were rewarded when skipper Pat Sanderson completed a forward drive by crashing over for a try, which Walker converted, to narrow the gap to 21-10 with eight minutes of the half to play.
Wasps nearly stretched their lead, though, after a turnover in midfield gave Van Gisbergen the chance to dart through a gap. He found Skivington in support and the lock veered over to the left, where Varndell was unmarked, but the pass was forward.
With three minutes left before the break, another Walker penalty made it 13-21 – a scoreline which flattered the home side, given the extent of Wasps’ superiority. The half nearly ended with an even tighter scoreline, when Sam Tuitupou seemed certain to score, but a last-ditch challenge by Van Gisbergen forced the ball from his hands.
Wasps had produced some glorious and, at times, breathtaking rugby and Worcester will have been mightily relieved to only trail by eight points at the break.
Wasps began the second half just as they had the first, with a flowing move from their own 22, with backs and forwards combining well to take play into the Worcester half. They were immediately rewarded with a penalty, for offside, and Cipriani’s 35 metre penalty made it 13-24 two minutes into the second period. The flyhalf then showed his blistering pace, in another attack down the left, which ended when Ben Jacobs lost the ball in the tackle. Worcester then produced a thrilling counterattack of their own, when Tuitupou went through a gap in midfield, and the move was only ended when the ball was spilt in the tackle on the Worcester 22. Joe Simpson then showed his speed with a lightning burst into the home half but the ball was again lost in the tackle.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Wasps made two changes. Simon Shaw was replaced by Joe Worsley, with Dan Ward-Smith moving into the second row, and Ben Broster made way for Phil Vickery, making his long-awaited return after a six-month injury absence.
With Worcester beginning to control possession and territory, and throwing everything into attack, and the visitors found themselves under real threat. They forced their way back into the home 22, though, after Steve Kefu’s crunching tackle on Walker dislodged the ball and Tom Rees was on hand to launch a counterattack but the ball was again lost in a promising position.
Tim Payne replaced Zak Taulafo and Serge Betsen came on for John Hart, before an athletic burst by Ward-Smith set up a Wasps attack. Cipriani’s kick found space in the Worcester 22 and Varndell managed to gather, but the defence were there to force a turnover.
Worcester then produced their first score of the second half, in extraordinary circumstances, when Cipriani’s attempted chip was blocked by Alex Grove just inside the Worcester half. The centre managed to juggle the ball and somehow catch it behind his back. He exchanged passes with Walker to race over for a remarkable try, which Walker converted, to narrow the gap to just four points with 11 minutes to go.
Sensing that an unlikely victory was now possible, the home crowd really began to find its voice as their side continued to press for a decisive score. Dave Walder replaced Cipriani and soon wriggled through a gap but his pass couldn't his Sackey in support.
With the clock ticking down, Wasps finally sacrificed adventure for safety and hung on to the ball for the final minute, before Joe Simpson kicked the ball into touch to secure the win.
Now, Wasps’ attention is firmly focused on next Saturday's St George’s Day Game against Bath at Twickenham. Tickets are still available for the inaugural match, which is raising money for Help for Heroes, and it promises to be a memorable event. If you haven't yet bought your tickets, call the London Wasps ticket office on 0844 225 2990 or click here to buy tickets now!