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Two Tom Varndell tries, which took him to 15 for the season, were not enough to snatch a win for a spirited Wasps side, who threw everything at the visitors in a desperate attempt to rescue a game which had been packed with entertaining and enterprising rugby. Victory next weekend, at Newcastle, could still earn a semi-final place, but much now depends on other results.
Wasps made a late change to their starting lineup, due to the illness of Mark Van Gisbergen. Jack Wallace came in at full back, to make his second senior appearance.
After a frenetic opening to the game, with both sides showing a willingness to run the ball, Scarlets had a chance to take the lead with a penalty from near halfway but Rhys Priestland’s kick was well wide.
A minute later, he had another chance, a further metres further into the Wasps half. He had to wait some time to take the kick, as John Hart required treatment for a shoulder injury. The Wasps skipper was forced to leave the field and was replaced by Hugo Ellis. Priestland kept his nerve and put his side 3-0 up with a fine kick.
Five minutes later, he made it 6-0 with a penalty from almost halfway. Wasps responded with some attractive rugby, giving the ball plenty of width. One elusive run by David Lemi set the crowd roaring, but the home side were unable to establish themselves in Scarlets territory.
After a fine run by Rob Higgitt split the Wasps defence and brought his side close to the opening try, Priestland had a simple penalty from in front of the posts, to stretch the lead to 9-0 after 23 minutes. Another handling move by Wasps, after Warren Fury ran a quick penalty from halfway, saw Lemi combine with Ben Jacobs down the left. The centre kicked ahead, but was tackled into touch as he made contact, and was unable to chase the ball.
Within a minute, Wasps had opened their account following a mazy run by Steve Kefu. The ball was spun first right, then left, and Tom Varndell finished off the move, to cross for his 14th try of the season, near the corner. Dave Walder’s conversion went wide, with 11 minutes of the half to play.
After Wasps lost possession at a scrum near the Scarlets 22, the ball was kicked downfield into the the Wasps 22. David Lemi gathered and tried to beat the oncoming attacker but was caught in possession, conceding a penalty near the touchline. Priestland made no mistake, with an excellent kick, to put his side seven points ahead 5 minutes before the break.
In the final minute of the half, Wasps put together another flowing move, which Varndell finished in the right corner. Walder was unable to add the extra points and halftime came with the visitors narrowly leading 12-10.
This had been a highly entertaining half, with very little of the long downfield kicking which has punctuated so many games this season, and Wasps had thoroughly deserved their tries, both the result of sustained, flowing handling movements, and clinically finished by the prolific Varndell.
Wasps made one change in the first minute of the second half, with James Honeyben replacing Warren Fury, who appeared to injure an ankle. Honeyben almost put Wasps ahead after Zak Taulafo broke down the blind side following a powerful forward drive. He combined with Ben Broster, who fed Honeyben a few metres out but he took man and ball and was crashed into touch.
After further solid forward play, and another good run by Kefu, Wasps were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. Walder took a quick tap, throwing a long pass out towards Varndell. It was intercepted by Andy Fenby, who streaked downfield only to find that the referee had called play back. This time Walder went for the posts and put his side ahead for the first time13-12, ten minutes into the half. That lead only lasted for a minutes, as straight from the restart Wasps gave away a penalty, 35 metres out, and Priestland’s kick, from in front of the posts put Scarlets back in front. Two minutes later, Walder missed a 45 metre penalty attempt, a few metres in from touch.
With 17 minutes left, Bob Baker replaced Ben Broster. Lachlan Mitchell then came on for Tom Varndell. Wasps immediately put together another multi-phased attack, but it came to nothing when Hugo Ellis was penalised for crossing a few metres out.
Nine minutes from time, Lee Smith came on for Wallace, to make his Wasps debut. The home crowd thought they’d regained the lead when Lemi streaked away to the line, but the officials ruled that the ball had gone forward off Kefu before Ben Jacobs gathered to feed Lemi.He called play back for a scrum following an earlier Scarlets knockon.
The visitors were then penalised and Walder had a chance to put his side back ahead with a kick from 40 metres. The ball went high above the level of the posts and the assistant referees kept their flags down. The referee referred it to the TMO, who eventually ruled that the kick had missed.
A minute later, after Scarlets had turned over Wasps ball, inside their 22, a long kick downfield and an excellent chase forced another Wasps offence and Priestland’s sixth penalty made it 18-13 with just over a minute left.
Wasps mounted one final, desperate attempt to snatch victory, keeping the ball alive well after the clock had passed zero, but a knock-on brought the game to a close. A disappointing result for Wasps, but the crowd had been treated to some thrilling rugby, in what had been probably the most entertaining home game of the season
Wasps play their final LV=Cup pool game next weekend, when they’re away to Newcastle Falcons. Then, on February the 14th, they return to Adams Park, to face Sale Sharks in the Guinness Premiership.