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Wasps made a sensational start to the game, with a try inside the first minute. Tom Varndell fielded a kick, just outside his own 22, and made ground down the right. When he was tackled the ball was worked back infield and Dave Walder darted through a gap in the Irish defence. He made 35 metres, before he found David Lemi in support just outside the Irish 22 and the winger raced clear to touch down for his second try of the season. Walder was unable to add the extra points.
Irish responded after seven minutes, with a try for Peter Hewat near the right corner, after a last-ditch Mark Van Gisbergen tackle had prevented a score by the posts for Tom Homer earlier in the same move. Hewat’s conversion put his side ahead 7-5.
Five minutes later, Hewat missed a straightforward 30 metre penalty from just to the left of the posts.
Wasps had an opportunity to take the lead on 16 minutes, after winning a lineout just outside the 22. The forwards patiently worked their way infield, before Joe Ward broke away from the maul. Skipper George Skivington was in support, but couldn’t hang on to the pass, with the line at his mercy. A minute later, though, Wasps did nudge their way in front when Walder landed a 30 metre penalty.
Wasps were now beginning to play some exciting rugby, showing a welcome willingness to run the ball from their own 22. One flowing counterattack, launched by Lemi, swept through several phases, before ending disappointingly with a penalty for failing to release in a promising position just outside the 22.
Almost immediately, Hewat was on target with a penalty, to make it 10-8, but Wasps almost reclaimed the lead from the restart, when Walder made another incisive break, but narrowly lost the race to get to his own chip ahead. Wasps kept up the pressure, and were rewarded with a penalty on the 22 and Walder put his side back in front, by a single point, with 27 minutes gone.
That lead should have lasted just three minutes, as Hewat had another kickable penalty, after Wasps had been penalised at a scrum on their 22, but he sent his kick well wide. A minute later, the Australian missed a more difficult kick after referee Jonathan Kaplan gave Ben Jacobs a firm lecture, for not rolling away from the breakdown a few metres in from touch.
Wasps soon made them pay for those misses, when a turnover near halfway gave Jacobs the chance to force his way through a gap and make ground down the left. Van Gisbergen appeared on his inside, to take the pass on the 22 and run in for a fine try, which Walder converted to make it 18-10 with three minutes of the half to play. That’s how it stood at the break, after forty minutes of highly entertaining rugby from both sides.
Wasps had the first chance of the second half, two minutes after the restart, when Walder hoisted a high kick to the right. Tom Varndell leapt high to claim the ball, but couldn’t quite control it with the line 30 metres away and no defenders in front of him.
The Wasps pack then put in their best shove of the day, at a scrum on their own 22, to send Irish backwards at a rate of knots. Wasps came close to adding their third try, turning over possession in their 22 to follow with a long kick downfield found unguarded territory. David Lemi appeared to be winning the race to the ball, but fullback Jamie Lennard just got back to knock it in to touch.
A minute later, Wasps created an overlap on the other side of the field, but Lachlan Mitchell’s pass to Jacobs was just behind him and he couldn’t hang on to the ball.
Wasps made their first substitution of the game when Ben Broster replaced Bob Baker in the front row. They could have gone further ahead, had a Lemi chip bounced kindly, but Irish then closed the gap to a single point, when Hewat came into the line from the blind side wing to go over for his second try between the posts. The conversion was a formality to make it 18-17 to Wasps with 14 minutes of the half played.
Despite the closeness of the game, both sides continued to throw caution to the winds, displaying the sort of passing more frequently seen in sevens.
Wasps made another change, when Joe Simpson replaced Warren Fury, making an immediate impact, with a powerful burst into the Irish 22. Simon Shaw couldn’t hold on to his pass, but the referee was playing advantage and Walder landed the penalty to make it 21-17, before Will Matthews came on for Hugo Ellis in the back row.
A long-range penalty from Jamie Lennard brought the score back to a single point, before the arrival of the Irish backs coach, Mike Catt, with 18 minutes to go.
The next Wasps replacement saw Eoghan Hickey come on for Tom Varndell. Hickey moved into the centre, with Mitchell going out to the wing.
The game was inside the final ten minutes when Irish were penalised at a scrum, after Wasps had twice chosen to go for the scrum, when awarded free kicks just outside the 22. Walder’s kick hit the post but Hickey followed up well to gather the ball. It was recycled quickly and Lemi landed a neat drop goal to make it 24-20.
With a few seconds of normal time remaining, Simon Shaw was shown a yellow card, for an offence at a breakdown on the Wasps 22. Irish threw everything into a final, desperate assault and their supporters thought that Peter Richards had scored a winning try, only for the referee to rule that he’d knocked on. But he showed another yellow card, this time to Joe Simpson. As Irish went for the decisive score, the ball went loose and Wasps cleared downfield. They then retained possession and a raking diagonal touch kick from Walder was the final act of a pulsating encounter.
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