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In their final game of the season at a sunny Adams Park, Wasps saved their best till last, to produce their first bonus point win of the Premiership campaign. With one minute of the first half left, they only led by two points, but a try before halftime, and three more in the first quarter of the second half, took the game completely out of the visitors’ reach. It was an exhilarating display, which will give the Men in Black and Gold great confidence, ahead of next Saturday’s St George’s Day game against Bath.
Wasps went ahead in the opening play of the game, which lasted nearly two-and-a-half minutes, with Leeds controlling possession for much of that time. With wave after wave of attack being repelled by the defence, they eventually tried a chip ahead, but Richard Haughton got his body in the way and kicked the loose ball downfield. As it entered the 22, a defender got back to gather, but was unable to control the ball, and Joe Simpson raced up in support, to hack it over the line and win the race for the touchdown. Dave Walder mishit his conversion attempt, from near the right touchline.
After several minutes of pressure, following a good restart, Leeds pulled back three points, with a simple penalty by Adrian Jarvis, when Wasps offended at the breakdown, in front of their posts.
A Wasps turnover, just inside the Leeds half, launched an exciting passage of play, with Elliot Daly featuring prominently. Excellent inter-passing between forwards and backs took play deep into the Leeds 22, but the visitors twice secured crucial turnovers, to relieve the pressure.
The game continued with Wasps controlling territory, but the Leeds forwards contesting every ball, and stealing several vital pieces of possession, as Wasps’ concentration let them down.
Joe Simpson launched a thrilling passage of play, as he gathered a kick inside his 22, and weaved left and right, before throwing a long pass out to Richard Haughton. Several phases later, after the forwards had applied the pressure, and taken play deep into the 22, Haughton appeared in the line, but was unable to gather a low pass, a few metres out.
With their confidence rising, Wasp turned down a kickable penalty, to go for touch at the corner, but they knocked on at the lineout, and an excellent position was lost.
Simon Shaw then had to leave the field with a blood injury, and was replaced by James Cannon.
Ten minutes from halftime, Wasps took a quick penalty, just inside the Leeds half. The ball was moved quickly out to the right, and Elliot Daly showed superb skill to pluck the ball from his toes, and cut inside a defender. Play was taken to within a few metres of the line, Leeds were ;penalised, and Michael Stephenson was shown the yellow card. This time, Wasps went for the posts, and Dave Walder was on target, to stretch the lead to 8-3.
With Shaw back on the field, Leeds immediately won a penalty, for binding in the front row. From 30 metres out, in front of the posts Jarvis landed the kick, to ,make it 8-6. Wasps soon restored the four points advantage , when Leeds number 8 Danny Paul came in from the side of a ruck, just under 40 metres out. Dave Walder landed an excellent kick, making it 11-6, two minutes before the break.
Wasps then struck a major blow, in the final minute of the half, after a powerful run by Dan Ward-Smith made many metres. Quick ball was moved out to the right, with TimPayne providing a delicate pass. Dave Walder spotted acres of space behind the defence and sent a beautifully placed kick downfield. As it rolled towards touch in goal, Richard Haughton appeared, to get his hand to the ball, for an opportunist try in the corner. Walder was unable to convert, but the halftime lead of 16-6 was no more than Wasps deserved, after 40 minutes of enterprising rugby, in which their youngsters had acquitted themselves well.
After early pressure by Leeds, at the start of the second half, Wasps broke out, with a fine run by Mark Van Gisbergen. As he approached the 22, he sent a chip towards the corner. Jack Wallace was winning the race to the ball, but it bounced frustratingly into touch, a few metres from the corner.
Seven minutes after halftime, Tom Lindsay lost the ball in contact, giving Leeds the chance to launch a counterattack, with a large overlap on the left, but a crunching tackled by Elliot Daly knocked the ball free, , just outside the 22, and Richard Haughton hacked it towards the line, showing superb handling skills to gather an awkward bounce, a metre out, and dive over for his second try of the game, which Walder converted, to give Wasps a comfortable looking 23-6 lead.
Wasps then made two front row substitutions, with Joe Ward and Zak Taulafo replacing Tom Lindsay and Tim Payne. The two substitutes were immediately involved in the attack which brought Wasps their fourth try, and their first Premiership bonus point of the season. A thundering charge by Taulafo took play deep into the 22, Simon Shaw, Joe Launchbury and Joe Simpson, all went for the line, before Ward crashed over. Walder added the extra points, and was on target two minutes later, after another counterattack ended with Man of the Match Simpson producing a defence-splitting sidestep, before showing his blistering pace to race away for a magnificent try. The conversion made the score 37-6, with over twenty minutes still to play.
Billy Vunipola then came into the Wasps back row, in place of Sam Jones. He was followed on to the field by Seb Jewell, who replaced Elliot Daly, after a highly impressive and mature display by the Whitgift schoolboy.
With the game now effectively over, Leeds went in pursuit of some consolation scores, and several minutes eventually produced a try, when replacement Rhys Oakley went over for a try. Jarvis converted to make it 37-13, with thirteen minutes left.
Two minutes later, Wasps were awarded a penalty, ten metres from the line. With the defence expecting a kick to the corner, Dave Walder took a quick tap and fed Dan Ward-Smith, who powered his way towards the line. He was stopped just short, but the ball was recycled quickly, and Vunipola had the strength to force his way over and touch down for a debut try. Walder converted, to stretch the lead to 44-6.
Wasps made further substitutions, with Bob Baker and Jonah Holmes replacing Ben Broster and Joe Simpson, before James Cannon took the place of Simon Shaw.
Wasps were now producing some magnificent rugby, with forwards and backs combining in wave after wave of attacks.
Five minutes from time, Dave Walder left the Adams Park pitch for the last time, to a warm ovation. He was replaced by Mark Atkinson, who was immediately called upon to land a conversion, which took Wasps past the fifty mark, after Zak Taulafo crashed over from short range.
In the final minute, replacement Christian Lewis-Pratt burst through two attempted tackles to race away for a consolation try, but the final score of 51-18 was a fair reflection of an outstanding display by the home side.
Wasps play their final home game in the Aviva Premiership next Saturday, when they take on Bath in the second St George’s Day Game at Twickenham, kicking off at 5.30 pm.
15 Mark van Gisbergen
14 Richard Haughton
13 Elliot Daly
12 Riki Flutey
11 Jack Wallace
10 Dave Walder
9 Joe Simpson
1 Tim Payne
2 Tom Lindsay
3 Ben Broster
4 Simon Shaw
5 Joe Launchbury
6 John Hart (c)
7 Sam Jones
8 Dan Ward-Smith
16 Joe Ward
17 Bob Baker
18 Zak Taulafo
19 James Cannon
20 Billy Vunipola
21 Jonah Holmes
22 Seb Jewell
23 Mark Atkinson
15 Michael Stephenson
14 Lee Blackett
13 Henry Faafili
12 Luther Burrell
11 Peter Wackett
10 Adrian Jarvis
9 Scott Mathie
1 Gareth Hardy
2 Steve Thompson (c)
3 Juan Gomez
4 Daniel Browne
5 Sean Hohneck
6 Kearnan Myall
7 Hendre Fourie
8 Danny Paul
16 Phil Nilsen
17 Gareth Denman
18 Phil Swainston
19 Rhys Oakley
20 Tom Denton
21 Dan White
22 Christian Lewis-Pratt
23 Lachlan Mackay