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The men in black and gold had the perfect start, as they went ahead with an opportunist try within 60 seconds. Newcastle were penalised at the game’s opening scrum, a few metres in from the right touchline. Mark Van Gisbergen sent his kick just wide of the left-hand post, but Tom Varndell followed up strongly and beat the defence to touch down, just before the ball went dead. Van Gisbergen landed the simple conversion.
Five minutes later, Dave Walder sent a long-range penalty just beneath the crossbar. With 13 minutes gone, Newcastle made a mess of Wasps possession at a scrum near halfway, and launched a counterattack which took play deep into the visitors’ 22. The pressure eventually forced a penalty and Jimmy Gopperth – last season’s leading Premiership points-scorer – was on target to narrow the gap to 7-3.
Wasps made a better job of controlling the ball at their next scrum and Andy Powell broke away down the right, lifting a delicate chip ahead which Newcastle took into touch. However Wasps were penalised at the lineout deep inside the home 22.
Wasps went further ahead with a sensational breakaway try which started on their 22. A long kick ahead had bounced awkwardly and Mark Van Gisbergen, under serious pressure, flicked an audacious pass to Varndell who was caught in possession. The ball went loose and was snatched by Richard Haughton, covering from the opposite wing. He raced away down the left touchline and crossed the halfway line, before finding support on his inside. The ball went through several pairs of hands, with Simon Shaw making a thrust for the line, before sending Ben Jacobs over for a superb score which Van Gisbergen converted. Moments later, Haughton nearly had a try of his own, when crisp passing sent him away down the right but a solid tackle dislodged the ball a few metres out.
Just short of the half hour, Newcastle were again penalised at the scrum 40 metres out, and in front of the posts. Van Gisbergen’s sweetly struck kick sailed over the bar to stretch the lead to 17-3.
Three minutes later Newcastle struck back, after turning down a kickable penalty to go for the corner. They won the lineout and made a series of thrusts for the line, before flanker Redford Pennycock managed to force his way over for a much-needed try. Gopperth’s conversion was a formality, to make the score 17-10 to Wasps.
That gap was immediately reduced to just four points, after Riki Flutey’s restart failed to go ten metres, Wasps were penalised at the resultant scrum and Gopperth’s magnificent kick from halfway brought his side right back into a game which had appeared to be running away from them.
17-13 was how it stood at the break – a frustrating scoreline for Wasps, who had been in control for much of the half. The set-pieces had looked solid, they had looked dangerous when attacking from deep, and their defensive pressure had forced a series of handling errors from the home side.
Wasps made no changes at the start of the second half, but were forced into a substitution within minutes of the restart when Zak Taulafo went down injured. After several minutes of treatment, with play continuing around him, he was helped off the field and Ben Broster came on in his place. The home side immediately broke away down the left and Wasps defence was put under enormous pressure in the shadow of their posts. That move ended with Nic Berry going off injured, bringing Charlie Davies on for his Premiership debut. Within a minute forward pressure following a scrum, ended with lock Tim Swinson crossing for a try, to give his side the lead for the first time. Gopperth added the extra points to make at 20-17 with nine minutes of the half played.
A minute later, after a dazzling run by winger Charlie Amesbury, Gopperth was just off target with a drop at goal. But he made no mistake with his next kick at goal – a penalty awarded when Andy Powell played the ball in an offside position after Van Gisbergen could not gather an up-and-under.
Wasps came close to an immediate response when Powell sent another neat kick downfield. The ball bounced well for the chasing Haughton, but his pass infield could not find Ben Jacobs who would have had a clear run-in to the line.
With the revitalised home side now playing with a confidence and precision, which had been missing in the first half, things got worse for Wasps as the game entered the final quarter, when Gopperth landed another straightforward penalty, to stretch his side’s lead to 26-17. Four minutes later that lead became 12 points when the fly half landed a huge kick from over 50 metres.
With the game now moving away from them Wasps brought Joe Worsley, Serge Betsen, David Lemi and Steve Kefu on for James Cannon, Andy Powell, Richard Haughton and Dave Walder. With Wasps throwing everything into a desperate effort to salvage something, Newcastle conceded a series of penalties, and lost a man to the bin, but Wasps could not find a way through, and they were left to rue a game which had apparently been there for the taking, after such a great start, but had somehow slipped away from them.
Next week, Wasps play their first game at Adams Park against Premiership champions and arch-rivals Leicester Tigers – with everyone in black and gold eager to bounce back from the disappointment of tonight’s game it’s set up to be one hell of a game.
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