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Wasps kept up their 100% record at Adams Park, and made it five consecutive home wins against Leicester, with a narrow, but deserved victory. Had they made the most of their chances, the victory could have been much more comfortable, but the biggest home crowd of the season went away happy, as the Men in Black and Gold hung on, in the tense closing minutes of a game which could have slipped away from them.
Wasps made three late changes to their line-up, when Tim Payne was forced to pull out, because of an ankle injury. He was replaced by Simon McIntyre, with Lewis Thiede coming on to the bench. Two other changes saw Chris Mayor and Jonah Holmes take the places of Tommy Bell and Charlie Davies, among the replacements.
Wasps got off to the perfect start, with Tom Varndell crossing for his 8th try of the season, in the third minute. They were awarded a free kick from a scrum on the Leicester 22. Billy Vunipola took it quickly, and made ten metres. The ball was recycled quickly, and Joe Simpson spun round, to throw a long pass out towards the left. Quick passing found Varndell. He was tackled just short, but managed to stretch out and touch down. Nick Robinson’s conversion was off target.
Wasps came within inches of stretching the lead two minutes later, with a breath-taking run by Christian Wade. He was given the ball out near the left touchline, a few metres inside the Leicester half. He ran infield, before accelerating past a series of tacklers. He seemed certain to score, but the defence just managed to get back and bring him down, within a whisker of the line. With the referee playing advantage, Wasps recycled and moved the ball back out to the right, but the movement ended with a knock-on. Robinson landed the penalty, to make it 8-0, after 7 minutes.
George Ford opened Leicester’s account with a well-struck penalty, four minutes later. Wasps threatened again, when Joe Simpson broke from a scrum, a few metres outside his own 22. He fed Wade, and the winger again showed his pace and footwork, to make good ground, before being stopped just outside the Leicester 22. Frustratingly, Wasps were penalised at the breakdown.
They were soon on the attack again, when Robinson lifted a neat chip into space near the left corner. Tom Varndell was in hot pursuit, but was penalised for being in front of the fly half.
Wasps were putting pressure on the Leicester lineout, and managed to steal a couple of misdirected throws. From one, Ashley Johnson made a characteristic charge downfield. The ball was kept alive, but Johnson then knocked on, with players outside him on the left. A minute later, Leicester were penalised at a scrum, just inside the Wasps half. Elliot Daly went for the posts, and his kick comfortably had the distance, but drifted wide.
The Wasps scrum was now beginning to put the pressure on the visitors, and a powerful shove produced a penalty, on the ten-metre line. The kicking duties were returned to Nick Robinson, but his well-struck effort hit the left upright, and Tigers were able to clear.
From the lineout, Wasps produced another incisive attack, when Varndell came into the line, from his wing. He made 15 metres, but was unable to get a pass away, and the movement broke down.
Seven minutes before the break, another Ford penalty narrowed the gap to 8-6, after Wasps offended at the breakdown, just outside their 22. Three minutes later, the fly half had the chance to give his side the lead, after Wasps were penalised at a lineout, just inside their 22.
Wasps mounted one last attack before the break, following another Joe Simpson burst down the right, but Elliot Daly was unable to hang on to a long pass, and halftime came with Wasps only narrowly ahead – their two-point advantage being a meagre return for 40 minutes in which they had posed all the attacking threats, but let themselves down with some wayward passing and poor handling in threatening positions.
Wasps made one change for the second half, with Lee Thomas replacing Chris Bell. Two minutes after halftime, Leicester went ahead, when a scrum wheeled on the Wasps 22, and the home side were judged to have been at fault. Ford had a simple kick, and made no mistake.
Wasps thought they had regained the lead, five minutes later, when a burst of speed by Elliot Daly set up the chance for Tom Varndell to go over in the left corner. Sadly, the TMO ruled that Hugo Southwell’s pass to the winger had gone forward.
Wasps kept up the pressure, and another Varndell burst led to the Leicester defence being caught offside, on their 22.
Lee Thomas’s kick put Wasps back in front, with 13 minutes of the half played. Five minutes later, Joe Simpson made a mess of Leicester ball at a scrum, and managed to fly hack the ball back to the Wasps side. Thomas gathered, and produced a telling run into the Leicester half. It resulted in a penalty, and the Welshman sent a fine kick between the posts, from 40 metres, to stretch the lead to 14-9.
It took just three minutes for the visitors to pull back three points, when Ford landed a 30-metre penalty, after Wasps were caught offside, in midfield.
Tom Lindsay and Sam Jones replaced Rhys Thomas and Jonathan Poff. Wasps continued to stretch the Leicester defence – Tom Varndell fielded a long clearance, and fed Christian Wade, who sent Elliot Daly, who was stopped inside the 22, but was unable to get the ball away. Another counter-attacking run by Varndell set up an overlap on the right, but Wade was unable to gather a sharp pass.
Nine minutes from time, Billy Vunipola failed to gather George Ford’s long kick, just outside the Wasps 22, and the home side were penalised for coming in at the side, a few metres in from touch. To the relief of the home crowd, the Leicester fly half fired his kick wide. Within a minute, Wasps came close, with a fine break by Daly, but the defence managed to get back and the ball was scrambled into touch.
From the lineout, Wasps kept the ball in the forwards and forced a penalty. Thomas’s kick went just wide.
With the tension mounting, Leicester were awarded a series of scrums on the halfway line, but the Wasps defence held firm, and forced a turnover that ended the game.
Wasps’ next home game will be on Thursday, the 13th of December, when they take on Bayonne, in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
The next Aviva Premiership game at Adams Park will be on Sunday, December the 23rd, when Sale Sharks are the visitors.
Hugo Southwell (capt.), Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Chris Bell, Tom Varndell, Nick Robinson, Joe Simpson, Simon McIntyre, T. Rhys Thomas, Phil Swainston, James Cannon, Marco Wentzel, Ashley Johnson, Jonathan Poff, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Tom Lindsay, Lewis Thiede, Will Taylor, Josh Thomas-Brown, Sam Jones, Charlie Davies, Chris Mayor, Lee Thomas
15 Mathew Tait 14 Niall Morris 13 Matt Smith 12 Dan Bowden 11 Adam Thompstone 10 George Ford 9 Sam Harrison 1 Jonny Harris 2 George Chuter 3 Fraser Balmain 4 Louis Deacon (c) 5 Graham Kitchener 6 Jordan Crane 7 Julian Salvi 8 Thomas Waldrom
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins 17 Michael Holford 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Ed Slater 20 Richard Thorpe 21 Patrick Phibbs 22 Andy Forsyth 23 Geordan Murphy