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After a spirited first-half performance, in which their forwards had held their own with the much-vaunted Northampton eight, Wasps had no answer to a commanding second-half performance from the visitors.
The Wasps forwards made an encouraging start, turning over Northampton possession at the first lineout. The home side then made the first serious attack, and turned down a kickable penalty, deep inside the Saints 22. They threatened briefly down the left, but Nick Robinson’s grub kick to the corner was blocked, Saints snapped up the loose ball, and moved it wide to the left, where Vasily Artemyev made a dangerous run, which took play deep into the Wasps half, but a penalty gave Dai Young’s side the chance to clear to halfway.
The first scrum of the game, on halfway, also went the way of Wasps, despite the Saints put-in. After one reset, the Wasps pack won a penalty, setting up a good attacking position. One move ended, when Jonathan Poff knocked on, inside the Northampton 22. Ben Foden gathered, and tried to counterattack, but was smothered by the Wasps defence. Another promising Wasps attack ended when a wild pass out towards Christian Wade went forward, and rolled into touch.
After a huge clearance by Hugo Southwell found touch on the Northampton 22, Wasps were penalised at the lineout. There was a clash between the forwards, and Tim Payne was shown a yellow card. A minute later, Wasps were penalised at the breakdown, just outside their 22, and Ryan Lamb’s simple penalty gave the visitors the lead, rather against the run of the play.
Three minutes later, Wasps went ahead, after a well-judged chip into the 22, from Robinson. Chris Ashton gathered, and was immediately scragged by Tom Varndell. The ball went loose, and was gathered by Christian Wade. He lobbed a pass out to Riki Flutey, who went over in the corner. Robinson missed the conversion.
Within a minute, Saints were back ahead, from a Lamb penalty, just outside the Wasps 22. Almost from the restart, Joe Simpson produced a characteristic burst through a gap in the defence, but Wasps were penalised at the breakdown. Despite that setback, they kept up the pressure, and a poor clearance by Ashton gave them the chance to run back at Northampton. They won a penalty, just inside the visitors’ half, and Robinson landed an excellent kick to put Wasps back in front, with 27 minutes played.
Two minutes later, Northampton had the chance to regain the lead, when Wasps were penalised inside their 22. The assistant referees kept their flags down, but the kick was referred to the TMO. After a long wait, he ruled that the ball had not gone between the posts.
Lamb then had another chance, after a Wasps attacked ended, when Varndell’s chip was gathered by Tom May, who made ground before sending Ashton away, down the right. Joe Simpson got back to make the tackle, but Wasps were again penalised at the breakdown, and this time the fly half’s kick clearly went over, to give Northampton a one-point lead, after 37 minutes.
As the game went into stoppage time, Lamb added a fourth penalty, a superb effort from near halfway. In the sixth minute of added time, a powerful Northampton scrum produced another penalty, 40 metres out, but Lamb sent his kick just to the left of posts, leaving the halftime score at 12-8 to the visitors. Despite a very competitive performance up front, Wasps had not managed to turn all their pressure into points. Northampton, on the other hand, had shown the priceless knack of acquiring points, almost every time they were in Wasps territory.
The visitors struck an early blow, in the second minute of the half, after Hugo Southwell was caught in possession under a hanging kick, and possession was turned over. A sweeping counterattack appeared to contain a crucial forward pass, but play continued, and Soane Tonga’uiha went over in the left corner. Lamb was unable to add the extra points.
For the first time in the game, the powerful Northampton pack was beginning to gather momentum, and it needed a timely turnover to stop a dangerous attack, on the Wasps 22. Moments later, handling in the ruck gave Lamb a chance to stretch the lead, but his long-range kick was narrowly off target.
That miss was only a brief respite for Wasps, as Northampton forward pressure than set up a second try, scored by Brian Mujati, who smashed through Nick Robinson is attempted tackle and charged 20 metres to go over under the posts. Lamb’s conversion was a formality, to give his side a commanding 24-8 lead, just 13 minutes into the second half.
Northampton’s Courtney Lawes then angered the home crowd, with what looked like a late tackle on Hugo Southwell - the England lock’s final contribution before being substituted.
Wasps now had Zak Taulafo and Tom Lindsay on, for Ben Broster and Rob Webber. They turned down a kickable penalty, and a beautiful cross-field kick by Joe Simpson almost produced a try for Christian Wade, who was just unable to gather the ball, as he leapt high, in the in-goal area.
With less than ten minutes left, Wasps were rewarded for their efforts, when Ross Filipo went over near the corner, from close range. Robinson’s conversion attempt fell just short. Needing another try for a bonus point, Wasps continued to attack at every opportunity. Further substitutions brought Matt Everard, Joe Burton and Chris Mayor on to the field, in place of Jonathan Poff, John Hart and Tom Varndell. They kept the ball alive for one final attack, but hopes of the bonus point ended when Zak Taulafo was unable to hold on to a pass, inside the Northampton 22.
A disappointing result, but Wasps fans can be proud of their team’s efforts, against one of the outstanding teams of recent times, much strengthened by the return of all their World Cup players.
The Aviva Premiership now takes a back seat for two weeks, as the clubs go into the opening games of their European campaigns.
Next weekend, Wasps are in France, to take on Begles- Bordeaux, in their first match of the Amlin Challenge Cup. The following week, they return to Adams Park, to face the Italian side, Rovigo, on Sunday, November the 20th.
15. Hugo Southwell 14. Tom Varndell 13. Chris Bell 12. Riki Flutey 11. Christian Wade 10. Nick Robinson 9. Joe Simpson 1. Tim Payne 2. Rob Webber 3. Ben Broster 4. Ross Filipo 5. Marco Wentzel 6. Richard Birkett 7. Jonathan Poff 8. John Hart (c)
16. Tom Lindsay 17. Zak Taulafo 18. Jeremy Castex 19. Joe Burton 20. Matt Everard 21. Nic Berry 22. Ryan Davis 23. Chris Mayor
15 Ben Foden 14 Chris Ashton 13 Jon Clarke 12 Tom May 11 Vasily Artemyev 10 Ryan Lamb 9 Lee Dickson 1 Soane Tonga’uiha 2 Dylan Hartley (capt) 3 Brian Mujati 4 Courtney Lawes 5 Mark Sorenson 6 Calum Clark 7 Phil Downson 8 Roger Wilson
16 Mike Haywood 17 Alex Waller 18 Paul Doran Jones 19 Samu Manoa 20 Tom Wood 21 Martin Roberts 22 Stephen Myler 23 George Pisi