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Wasps’ ground-breaking trip to Abu Dhabi ended in disappointment as they were well beaten by an efficient and impressive Harlequins side, in the magnificent surroundings of the Emirates Palace Hotel. Harlequins took all their chances, while Wasps were guilty of far too many errors, and the heavy defeat means they can only reach the semi finals of the LV=Cup if they win at Ospreys next weekend, and other results go their way. On a more positive note, the game showcased a host of talented youngsters such as Sam Jones, Billy Vunipola, Mark Atkinson and Joe Launchbury who all impressed.
Wasps kicked off with a strong wind at their backs. Inside the first minute, they won a penalty from a lineout just inside the Quins half, and fly half Mark Atkinson, on his first team debut, sent a superb kick between the posts. He then had a cross field kick charged down, after a 20-metre forward drive from a lineout took play into the Quins half. George Lowe kicked downfield, but Richard Haughton was back to gather and the winger then leapt high, to gather a hoisted kick, just outside his 22.
Play was then halted, after Quins prop Mark Lambert took a heavy knock when 18 year old number 8 Billy Vunipola, who was impressive in his physicality on his debut, charged into him. After several minutes of treatment, Lambert was stretchered off and taken to hospital, to be replaced by John Andress.
Quins immediately went ahead, through an opportunist try by scrumhalf Karl Dickson, after a controlled build-up by the forwards. Play was moved wide, and Gonzalo Camacho was stopped out wide on the left, just outside the 22. The ball emerged quickly, and Dickson darted round the unmanned blind side, before cutting inside Jack Wallace, to cross for an excellent score, which Evans converted, to make it 7-3, after seven minutes.
Seven minutes later, a solid Wasps scrum forced a penalty a few metres inside the Quins half. Atkinson’s kick went above the level of the posts, and the assistant referees both ruled that it had missed – a decision confirmed by the TMO.
Quins showed their attacking threat with another well-constructed move which took play very close to the Wasps line. They were rewarded with a five-metre scrum, and made the most of it with their second try, after Chris York went for the line, the ball was recycled quickly, and George Lowe went over, to the right of the posts. Evans judged the wind perfectly, to pull his conversion in from the right and make it 14-3, with twenty minutes gone.
Wasps came roaring back with Tom Varndell’s eleventh try of the season, after Quins failed to gather Atkinson’s restart. Ben Jacobs made ground down the right, Charlie Beech‘s powerful charge was stopped just short, the ball was lobbed out to the left, and Varndell plucked it out of the air before cutting inside two defenders
to cross near the corner. Atkinson was unable to land the conversion.
Quins lock Ollie Kohn then tried to kick downfield, but Wasps were able to run it back, after Varndell gathered. He fed Haughton, who beat two defenders, to cross the halfway line, but Ben Broster’s pass drifted into touch. Haughton impressed again, with a magnificent high take just outside his 22, to set up a fine move, which only ended when Dom Waldouck lost the ball in contact a few metres inside the Quins half, following another good run by Jacobs.
With twelve minutes of the half left, Ben Broster was caught offside, just outside his 22, and Evans was again on target, to make the score 17-8. Quins continued to apply the pressure, using repeated pick-and-drives to suck in the defence, before moving the ball out wide, and a third try looked on the cards, until Haughton managed to get his foot to a stray pass, and clear downfield.
Quins stretched their lead, two minutes before the break, after Evans chose to go for the corner, from a penalty on the 22. They won the lineout, and another well-controlled drive set up the position for Ceri Jones to crash over. Evans kept up his 100% record with another beautifully judged kick, to make it 24-8. There was just time for Wasps to launch one final attack, when Jack Wallace gathered a high ball and made good ground, before the ball was moved back out to the right, and Haughton again did well, before being stopped n his tracks by a heavy tackle from Maurie Fa’asalavu. Nic Berry gathered the loose ball, but was forced into touch, and the halftime whistle went, with Wasps facing an uphill battle, to turn things around.
Wasps made one change at the start of the second half, with Charlie Davies replacing Berry. Wasps were soon under pressure, when Evans used the wind well to send a long kick downfield, after Wallace counterattacked strongly, only for possession to be turned over. The fullback got back to gather, on the line, but his pass to Tom Lindsay was judged to have gone forward. From the scrum, Quins made them pay for the error, as Dickson powered his way over for the bonus point try, and Evans’s conversion gave his side a huge lead.
Wasps brought on Dave Walder, Serge Betsen and Christian Wade, for Atkinson, Sam Jones and Wallace. The replacements were soon involved, after Davies took play up to the Quins 22, with a superb 30-metre run, from a quick penalty. Quick possession saw the ball spun out to the left, and Christian Wade went over in the corner, but TV replays clearly showed that he was just in touch and lost control of the ball before grounding it.
Another substitution saw Bob Baker replace Ben Broster, and Wasps again came close, when Walder spotted space in the Quins 22, and sent a delicate little chip into space. Ben Jacobs was first to the ball, but lost control in the tackle, a few metres short of the line.
Wasps continued to show positive intent, with Vunipola featuring prominently, but too many promising moves were cut short by handling errors.
Joe Launchbury and Shaun Ruwers were the next Wasps replacement, when they took the places of Charlie Beech and James Cannon, with just over ten minutes to go. Wasps again came close; when Varndell came off his wing to take an inside pass from Walder. He was unable to break clear, but the ball found its way to Marty Veale, who was forced into touch at the corner.
Tom Lindsay then powered his way over, and was unable to ground the ball, but he managed to slip it back, and Launchbury just got a hand to it to score on his debut which was awarded by the TMO. Walder missed the conversion, from wide on the right.
With three minutes left, a final Wasps substitution brought Michael Mayhew on for Lindsay, but Harlequins had the last word. Another Wasps attack ended in possession being lost inside the Quins half, and Tom Williams sent a long kick down into acres of space in the Wasps 22. It bounced into the arms of Sam Smith, who went over unopposed for his side’s fifth try, which Rory Clegg converted.
Wasps complete their LV=Cup pool programme next Sunday, when they travel to Bridgend’s Brewery Field, to take on Ospreys.
15 Jack Wallace
14 Richard Haughton
13 Ben Jacobs (c)
12 Dominic Waldouck
11 Tom Varndell
10 Mark Atkinson
9 Nic Berry
1 Charlie Beech
2 Tom Lindsay
3 Ben Broster
4 Marty Veale
5 James Cannon
6 Richard Birkett
7 Sam Jones
8 Billy Vunipola
16 Michael Mayhew
17 Shaun Ruwers
18 Bob Baker
19 Joe Launchbury
20 Serge Betsen
21 Charlie Davies
22 Dave Walder
23 Christian Wade
15 Tom Williams, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Chris York, 7 Will Skinner (C), 6 Maurie Fa'asalavu, 5 Pete Browne, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 Mark Lambert, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Ceri Jones
16 Matt Cairns, 17 Will Collier, 18 John Andress, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Benjamin Urdapilleta