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Wasps players celebrate after their late match-winning try
A debut try for Richard Haughton five minutes from time clinched Wasps’ first win of the season, in the most dramatic style. Two tries in the last five minutes of the first half had given the reigning champions a commanding 30-18 half time lead, but a stirring second half fight back snatched a most remarkable win.
Wasps conceded a penalty within 14 seconds of Jeremy Staunton’s long kick off, which Mark Van Gisbergen gathered a few metres from his line, but the Tigers fly half was narrowly off target with a kick from near the touchline.
Wasps responded well with some close quarters handling from the forwards, before the ball was released to the backs. Dave Walder looped around behind Riki Flutey to send Tom Varndell away down the left, but the Tigers defence managed to get across and win a turnover.
Varndell then produced a piece of individual magic to open the scoring. He fielded Staunton’s 22 drop out, a few metres inside the Leicester half, and spun away from the tacklers to race clear to cross for his third try in three games. Van Gisbergen could not add the extra points, with a kick from wide out.
Four minutes later, Leicester failed to release a few metres inside their own half and Dave Walder sent a magnificent kick between the posts to make it 8-0.
Andy Powell surges forward
Leicester came back immediately and Van Gisbergen pulled off a magnificent try-saving tackle, after Staunton and Alessana Tuilagi had combined to release George Chuter. The ball was then worked back infield and the visitors thought they had scored, after a powerful forwards surge, but the TMO ruled no try. As the referee had been playing advantage, Staunton then had a simple penalty to open his side’s account with just under 15 minutes played.
Dan Ward-Smith came on as a blood replacement for Joe Worsley. From a scrum on halfway, Walder chipped over the Tigers backs, and Tuilagi failed to gather, but play was called back for a penalty and Walder landed another fine long-range kick to make it 11-3.
The home defence was immediately tested, when Tuilagi received the ball just inside the Wasps 22, but David Lemi managed to tackle him into touch. It was only a brief respite for Wasps, though, as the Leicester backs created an overlap and Tuilagi sent Matt Smith over for a fine try. Staunton’s conversion attempt drifted just wide.
Tom Rees brushes past a tackle
With Worsley returning to the fray, Tigers had a great chance to go ahead after a Wasps pass was intercepted by Thomas Waldrom 40 metres out. Riki Flutey covered back to bring him down just short of the line and the Tigers support then knocked the ball on with the try line beckoning.
Thirteen minutes from half time, Tigers were level after the Wasps backs were caught offside inside their 22. Staunton had a simple kick to make it 11-11. They went ahead for the first time a minute later, thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Ben Youngs. The scrum half took a quick penalty, just inside his own half, and raced away before the Wasps defence could organise itself. His blistering pace meant nobody could get near him and he went over between the posts, giving Staunton the simplest of conversions to make it 18-11.
Wasps roared back when another Tigers clearance was fed to Varndell, who had a clear 40-metre run down the left. Walder converted, with a superb kick from the touchline.
Leicester then took a firm hold on the game, with two hammer blows in the last five minutes of the half. First, Waldrom and Youngs combined on the blind side of a scrum inside the Wasps 22. Youngs fed Billy Twelvetrees, who juggled with the ball, wrong-footing the defence, before accelerating through a gap to cross for a well-taken try, which Staunton converted.
Man of the Match Dave Walder kicked 22 points for Wasps
Then, with just over a minute left before half time, a high kick to the corner again stretched the defence. Andy Powell did well to get back and gather, but the ball squirted out on the Tigers side, and Tom Croft forced his way over for a bonus point try. Staunton could not convert, but halftime came with the visitors sitting on a commanding 12 point lead, at 30-18.
Richard Birkett replaced James Cannon, five minutes after the break. His first contribution was to join a defensive scrum, a few metres from the line, and a fine shove sent the Tigers front row up into the air, to concede a penalty, which was greeted by one of the loudest roars of the day. Wasps then made another substitution, when Varndell, who’d required treatment shortly before half time, made way for Richard Haughton.
Wasps had their first scoring chance of the half, when Tom Croft went offside on halfway. Walder was on target with another fine kick, to bring his side back to within nine points with 25 minutes still to play.
Rob Webber was replaced by Joe Ward, making his first appearance of the season. Wasps then mounted one of their best attacks of the afternoon, when David Lemi was sent clear down the left. He was stopped just short, but the ball was moved out to the right and Tom Rees ducked under a high tackle to cross the line. The TMO ruled that the ball had been lost over the line, but Wasps had the consolation of a penalty for offside, earlier in the move. Walder’s kick made it 24-30, as the game entered the final quarter.
Haughton scores the dramatic final try
Andy Powell, who’d caught the eye with some typical barnstorming runs, left the field, to a big round of applause, to be replaced by Dan Ward-Smith. Wasps then had an unlucky bounce, when Dave Walder’s long diagonal kick bounced the wrong way and went dead, giving Tigers a scrum back in the home half. That immediately led to a penalty against Tim Payne, and Twelvetrees had a kickable penalty from less than 40 metres in front of the posts, but his high kick went wide.
One minute later, it was Wasps who were going for the posts, when Leicester were penalised, just inside their half. Walder again kept his nerve, to bring his side to within three points, with just over ten minutes left.
As time ticked away, Wasps kept up the pressure, and were rewarded with a penalty, in front of the Leicester posts, and Walder’s seventh penalty brought the scores level with under seven minutes of normal time left.
Inside the final five minutes, the Adams Park crowd went wild, as Geordan Murphy tried to shepherd Walder’s kick ahead into touch. He misjudged it, and Richard Haughton managed to kick it into the air, and gather to dive over for his first try for Wasps, which MOTM Walder converted, with another superb kick from near the touchline.
There was just time for a final Tigers attack, which came perilously close to scoring, but the defence was back to force them into touch near the corner and the final whistle went to scenes of near ecstasy from the crowd, who witnessed one of the great Wasps comebacks.