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The Premiership season got off to a sensational start, with this extraordinary encounter between the two old rivals. When Tim Payne went over for Wasps’ fifth try, after 56 minutes, his side led by 40-13, after a superb exhibition of attacking rugby. But the huge effort had taken a lot of out of them, and Quins launched an implausible comeback which snatched victory with a Nick Evans penalty, two minutes from time.
It was a bitter blow for Wasps, who had rocked the champions with three first-half tries – two from Christian Wade, and one from Tom Varndell, who was denied a second on the stroke of halfime with a historic ruling from the TMO. Two bonus points were scant consolation, after a game, which for so long had seemed to be going Wasps’ way.
Wasps got off to a superb start, with a try inside 3 minutes. After winning a lineout on the Quins 10 metre line, they patiently worked their way upfield, through a series of phases. Eventually, they had sucked in enough defenders to create space out on the right. Hugo Southwell came into the line, and fed Tom Varndell, who sent Christian Wade in to the corner. Nick Robinson landed a superb conversion.
Four minutes later, following another promising Wasps attack, Quins were caught offside, in front of their posts, and Robinson was on target with a simple penalty, to stretch the lead to 10-0. The flyhalf had another chance just two minutes later, when Quins transgressed at the breakdown, and he was on target, from 40 metres out.
Almost immediately, Wasps stole a Quins lineout on halfway. They moved the ball quickly to the right, and Southwell again created the overlap for Christian Wade, who had a clear run to the line. He was about to score himself, but then passed inside to Tom Varndell, who crossed for his 37th try for Wasps, and his 61st in all Premiership games. Robinson added the conversion, and Wasps fans were pinching themselves, as the scoreboard showed them 20-0 ahead.
Quins finally burst into life when they were awarded a penalty, a few metres inside the Wasps half. Danny Care took a quick tap, and, with the Wasps defence retreating, he found Tom Williams, who raced in from nearly 40 metres. Nick Evans had an easy conversion. Wasps struck back immediately, when they turned over possession, inside the Quins 22, and Chris Robshaw was caught offside, and Nick Robinson struck his third penalty, to make it 23-7, after 19 minutes.
Fine play by the Wasps forwards, with Billy Vunipola showing his strength, made good ground, before possession was turned over, and a penalty conceded.
The disappointment was short-lived, as Jonathan Poff won another turnover in midfield. Marco Wentzel was on hand, to feed the ball quickly out to the right, and Christian Wade easily rounded George Lowe to race over for another fine try – his 16th in 25 games for Wasps. Robinson’s 100% record came to an end, as his mishit conversion went wide, but Wasps were now 28-7 up, with 13 minutes of the half left.
Evans pulled back six points, with two penalties in quick succession, to make it 28-13, 7 minutes before the break.
Another good Wasps lineout, just inside the Quins 22, set up another opportunity down the right, but Robinson chose to chip over the defence, and Mike Brown was able to gather, as Christian Wade closed in on him. Wasps were then penalised, and Quins cleared the danger.
Quins threatened briefly, when George Lowe stole the ball from Hugo Southwell, after the fullback had leapt high, to gather a kick ahead, but Wasps won a series of turnovers, to make their way upfield.
On the stroke of halftime, the backs combined well, to send Tom Varndell clear down the right and race 30 metres to the corner. With Wasps celebrating what they thought was a bonus point try, the referee made first use of the broader TMO remit, to check on a suspected forward pass, by Nick Robinson, early in the move. Unfortunately for Wasps, the historic ruling denied them a fourth try, and the halftime score was 28-13, after a stirring 40 minutes, in which the forwards had set a solid platform for the pace of the Wasps wide men to pose huge problems to the champions.
Wasps had an early chance to put the pressure on, in the first minute of the second half, when the officials ruled that the ball had been played back into the 22, before Nick Evans cleared for touch. Wasps won the lineout, Poff and Vunipola both put in strong surges, to take play to within a few metres of the line, before a breakdown offence ended the move.
Six minutes into the second half, Wasps won a vital turnover, as Quins began to look dangerous. There was oceans of space on the left, and Tom Varndell raced away. As Brown went across to cover him, he passed inside to Marco Wentzel, and the lock’s first ever Premiership try secured the bonus point. Robinson missed the conversion, leaving the score at 33-13. Wasps were then forced to make their first replacement, as Andrea Masi limped off, to make way for Chris Mayor.
The Quins pack now began to gather some momentum, and a series of powerful scrums and drives saw them establishing territory, deep inside the Wasps 22, but fierce defence forced a turnover.
Wasps took immediate advantage of the escape, when they produced a superb flowing move, involving forwards and backs. It ended with Marco Wentzel slipping an inside pass to Tim Payne, who crashed over for only his 9th try, in 246 games. Robinson’s superb conversion made it 40-13, but the flyhalf then had a clearance charged down by Tom Guest, who had only just come on to the field, and the simple try was converted by Evans, making it 40-20, as the game approached the final quarter.
Nic Berry came on for Joe Simpson, and a Quins attack down the left then produced a fine try for Mike Brown, in the left corner. Evans hit the post with the touchline conversion, and the Wasps lead was down to 15 points, with 18 minutes.
Tom Palmer was the next Wasps replacement, coming on for James Haskell, with Joe Launchbury moving into the back. Almost immediately, a perfectly placed kick by Nick Evans found the unmarked Mike Brown, out on the left. The fullback gathered and went over unopposed. The try was only awarded after the TMO had confirmed that Brown was onside. The conversion narrowed the gap to 40-32, with 15 minutes left.
Three minutes later, the lead was down to a single point, as Quins stretched the tiring defence. A number of tackles were missed in a move which ended with Nick Evans going over near the posts. The conversion meant it was 40-39, with 11 nail-biting minutes left.
Simon McIntyre replaced Fabio Staibano, as the game entered the final ten minutes and Joe Simpson then returned to the fray, when Nic Berry was helped off, after taking a nasty knock.
Two minutes from time, it was Nick Evans who struck the killer blow, with a long-range penalty, following a scrum, a few minutes inside the Wasps half.
Wasps launched one last desperate bid to snatch the win which, for so long, had seemed a formality. Tom Varndell was sent away down the left, but the defence managed to force him into touch, and the whistle blew on a memorable, but – from the Wasps point of view – disappointing afternoon.
15 Hugo Southwell (capt.) 14 Tom Varndell 13 Elliot Daly 12 Andrea Masi 11 Christian Wade 10 Nick Robinson 9 Joe Simpson 1 Tim Payne 2 Tom Lindsay 3 Fabio Staibano 4 Joe Launchbury 5 Marco Wentzel 6 James Haskell 7 Jonathan Poff 8 Billy Vunipola
16 Thomas Rhys Thomas 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Zak Taulafo 19 Tom Palmer 20 Ashley Johnson
21 Nic Berry 22 Tommy Bell 23 Chris Mayor
15. Mike Brown 14. Tom Williams 13. Matt Hopper 12. Jordan Turner-Hall 11. George Lowe
10. Nick Evans 9. Danny Care 1. Joe Marler 2. Joe Gray 3. James Johnston 4. Olly Kohn 5. George Robson
6. Maurie Fa’asavalu 7. Chris Robshaw © 8. Nick Easter
16. Rob Buchanan 17. Mark Lambert 18. Will Collier 19. Charlie Matthews 20. Tom Guest
21. Karl Dickson 22. Ben Botica 23. Ross Chisholm