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Wasps began their Amlin Challenge Cup campaign in fine fashion, with a bonus point win against a Dragons side which had stunned the home crowd, with a try inside two minutes. Despite securing maximum points, Wasps will be annoyed that their margin of victory was not greater, as the visitors made the most of lapses of concentration to end the game within reach of a losing bonus point. In a pool in which points difference could prove decisive, a 13-point victory could have been much greater.
Wasps started shakily, dropping Lewis Robling’s kickoff, inside their 22. They won a freekick at the scrum, and Nick Robinson sent a long kick downfield, which was fielded just outside the 22. After an exchange of kicks, Hallam Amos broke down the left wing, and fed Adam Hughes, who burst through a tackle, to go over near the left corner. Robling missed the conversion.
Wasps bounced straight back with a superb try, after Hugo Southwell joined the line, to make good ground down the left. He was stopped on the 22, and the ball was worked infield. Billy Vunipola and Ashley Johnson both made short bursts, before Joe Launchbury found his way through the defence, and was stopped just short of the line. The ball was quickly moved out to the right, and Jack Wallace dived over in the corner. Nick Robinson added a magnificent conversion, to put the home side in front.
They should have stretched their lead, a minute later, when Tom Varndell broke down the left, before veering infield. The move was kept alive, and an overlap was created on the right, but Chris Bell’s pass went behind the unmarked Jack Wallace, and rolled harmlessly into touch. Wasps immediately had some consolation, as their pack won a penalty at a scrum, just inside the 22. Robinson had the simplest of kicks, to put Wasps 10-5 ahead.
After a brief period of Dragons pressure, Wasps were soon on the attack again, and a fine move sent Wallace racing away down the right, with one man to beat. He lost his footing, as he tried to step inside, but managed to make the ball available, and it was recycled quickly, with a huge numerical advantage out on the left. Fabio Staibano was the man who finished the move, as he barged through two tackles, and managed to ground the ball, near the left corner. Robinson added the conversion.
Three minutes later, the Wasps pack made a mess of another Dragons scrum, and Joe Simpson hacked a loose ball into the 22. He made contact again, 15 metres from the posts, but was brought down by fullback Dan Evans, as he tried to chase his kick. A penalty try was out of the question, as the scrumhalf would not have reached the ball before it went dead, but Evans was shown a yellow card, and Robinson had another simple penalty, to stretch the lead to 20-5, after 18 minutes.
Despite now having a numerical advantage, Wasps lost some of the precision they had been showing, and they were unable to stretch their lead, while Evans was in the sin bin. Just before his return, Tom Varndell found touch on the Dragons 22, with a massive clearance from near his own line. A minute later, with Evans back on the field, Hallam Amos gathered a kick ahead and touched down for what he thought would be a 22, but the officials ruled that he had carried the ball over, and Wasps were awarded a five-metre scrum. They took full advantage, as Billy Vunipola picked up from the back of the scrum, and powered his way over for the third Wasps try. This time, Robinson’s conversion was off target, passing just wide of the posts, but the lead was now 25-5, with ten minutes of the half left.
Wasps were now playing at great pace, and with enormous confidence. Another attack seemed to be creating a possible opportunity on the left, but Hallam Amos intercepted a long pass and hacked downfield. It took some excellent covering work by Joe Simpson to gather the ball, but Dragons won a five-metre scrum. Their forwards applied the pressure, and a series of drives ended with replacement prop Owen Evans crossing the line for their second try, five minutes before halftime. Robling’s conversion made the score 25-12.
The flyhalf then narrowed the gap to ten points, when Wasps were penalised, during the final play of the half, and he had a close-range penalty, to make it 25-15 at the break – a frustrating scoreline for Wasps, who had dominated most of the half, only to let the visitors back into the game with a few moments of carelessness, as the interval approached.
Wasps launched the first attack of the second half, after winning a scrum near the right touchline, following a Dragons knock-on , from Nick Robinson’s restart. The flyhalf threaded a well-judged kick through the defence, and Tom Varndell was in hot pursuit, but the ball just beat him, and bounced into touch. From the lineout, Wasps won a penalty, and Robinson landed the kick, to stretch the lead to 28-15. Two minutes later, he had another kick, from a similar position, but, this time, his kick went wide. He immediately sent a long kick downfield, and Toby Faletau knocked on, on his 22. The Wasps pack produced another powerful scrum, which yielded another penalty, a few metres in from the left touchline. Robinson made up for his miss, with a well-struck kick, to make the score 31-15, after 50 minutes.
At this point, Rhys Thomas became the first Wasps replacement, when he came on for Tom Lindsay. Two minutes later, Robling landed a simple penalty, which brought the score to 31-18. Jonathan Poff then made way for Sam Jones, in the Wasps back row.
Both substitutes featured in the build-up to the try which secured the bonus point, on the hour. The move began with a Tom Varndell burst down the left wing. When he was stopped, the forwards arrived en masse to drive for the line. The ball emerged and was moved out to the right, where an overlap had been created. Chris Bell decided to go for the line, and appeared to be stopped by a high tackle. Play continued, and the ball was recycled for Joe Simpson, who wriggled through a narrow gap on the blind side, to go over near the corner. Another fine Robinson kick stretched the score to 38-18, and Simpson and Bell were then replaced by Charlie Davies and Phil Swainston.
With six minutes left, a Wasps attack broke down, and the ball was hacked downfield. After a frantic foot-race, in which Dragons seemed to have missed a great chance to score, replacement Jack Dixon just managed to get the touchdown, before the ball rolled dead. Robling converted, to give his side the chance of a bonus point, with five minutes left to play.
Tommy Bell replaced skipper Hugo Southwell, and Billy Vunipola was named man of the match as the game entered its final play. Wasps ended the game on the attack, but were unable to add a fifth try.
Next weekend, Wasps travel to Italy, to take on Rugby Mogliano in the second round of Amlin Challenge Cup pool games. The following Sunday, the 28th of October, they return to Aviva Premiership action, when London Welsh make their first ever visit to Adams Park.
Hugo Southwell (c), Jack Wallace, Chris Bell, Lee Thomas, Tom Varndell, Nick Robinson, Joe Simpson, Zak Taulafo, Tom Lindsay, Fabio Staibano, Joe Launchbury, Marco Wentzel, Ashley Johnson, Jonathan Poff, Billy Vunipola
T.Rhys Thomas, Phil Swainston, Lewis Thiede, James Cannon, Sam Jones, Charlie Davies, Tommy Bell, Elliot Daly
Newport Gwent Dragons
Daniel Evans, Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Ashley Smith, Hallam Amos, Lewis Robling, Liam Davies, Aaron Coundley, Sam Parry, Nathan Buck, Jevon Groves, Robert Sidoli, Tom Brown, Lewis Evans (c), Toby Faletau
Hugh Gustafson, Owen Evans, Dan Way, Ian Nimmo, Ieuan Jones, Jonathan Evans, Jack Dixon, Tom Prydie