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A courageous display by a depleted Wasps side was not quite enough to secure them a bonus point, after David Mele’s late try, three minutes from time, gave the home side a try bonus point and cruelly left Wasps with nothing.
Wasps made an encouraging start, winning a penalty after just over a minute, following a lineout just inside the Leicester half. Andy Goode kicked for touch, setting up a lineout on the home 22. Nathan Hughes led a powerful drive towards the line, before play came infield and Leicester conceded another penalty, just to the left of the posts. Goode made no mistake, to give his side an early lead.
A Manu Tuilagi burst took Leicester into Wasps territory for the first time. They spent several minutes in and around the 22, before the England centre set off on another charge, which was stopped by an excellent tackle from Charlie Hayter.
Play was disrupted by a series of injury stoppages, with Tom Lindsay and Phil Swainston both receiving treatment. Lindsay eventually left the field for several minutes for further attention to an eye injury. After 14 minutes, Wasps were caught offside at a breakdown on their ten-metre line, 15 metres in from touch. Owen Williams scuffed his kick badly, sending it short and wide of the posts.
Leicester kept up the pressure, and the inevitable score came after 19 minutes following a powerful rolling maul which took play from the 22 almost to the Wasps line. When the ball emerged, Ben Youngs found Manu Tuilagi with a flat pass which he took at pace to go over between the posts. Williams added the simple conversion.
Wasps responded strongly, with a well-constructed attack ending with Tom Palmer showing excellent juggling skills, before sending Will Helu over the line, but he was unable to ground the ball. Helu then showed his own skills in defence, leaping high to gather a kick ahead, on the Wasps 22, before making 15 metres with some elusive footwork.
A free-kick at a scrum on their 22 gave Wasps the chance to break out of their territory. Nathan Hughes took a quick tap and fed Charlie Hayter at pace. The ball was moved out to the left, but the defence forced them into touch. Almost immediately, Wasps set up an overlap on the left. Ed Jackson made a superb pick-up, off his toes, and fed Guy Thompson, who raced in from 20 metres. Goode’s conversion gave Wasps a 10-7 lead, with twelve minutes of the half to play.
An error at the restart gave Leicester the chance to apply fresh pressure, yielding a penalty near the corner. They turned down the kick at goal, but Guy Thompson won a vital turnover, from the lineout. Several minutes of Leicester pressure followed, but the Wasps defence denied them any opportunities. Thompson again caught the eye, when he tackled the charging Niki Goneva head on, stole the ball from him and sent an excellent clearance to touch, on halfway.
Wasps held out until the final play of the half. With the clock at zero, Mathew Tait made ground down the left, and Goneva came on a diagonal run to go over in the corner, despite a valiant twin tackle by Andy Goode and James Short. The score was referred to the TMO, who ruled that the ball had been grounded, just before Goneva’s leg went into touch-in-goal. Williams converted, to make the half-time score 14-10 to the hosts.
Wasps made one change for the second half, with Carlo Festuccia replacing Tom Lindsay. Eight minutes after the break, following a Wasps lineout on their 22, which took place without Matt Mullan, who was down injured, at the other end of the field, Leicester stretched their lead, when Tuilagi blasted through two tackles to go over for his second try, near the posts. Williams was unable to add the conversion.
Wasps came back with a series of phases inside the Leicester 22. They appeared to have an overlap out on the left, but Andy Goode’s long pass was intercepted by Tuilagi and Blaine Scully was able to make a few metres down the left, before kicking ahead, and into touch.
Wasps stayed in the Leicester 22, and an excellent piece of foraging by Guy Thompson stole possession from a Leicester scrum, before Nathan Hughes suffered a painful kick in the face, when he was accidentally caught by Niki Goneva’s boot.
By the 62rd minute, Wasps had brought on all their replacements, including Joe Launchbury, on his 23rd birthday. Two minutes later, Owen Williams stretched the home lead, with a 40-metre penalty.
Now trailing by 12 points, Wasps turned down two kickable penalties to go for the corner, with 12 minutes left. From the second lineout, a controlled catch and drive was stopped on the line, and Leicester won the put-in to the scrum. A minute later, Elliot Daly sent a delicate chip behind the defence, and it bounced into the arms of Tommy Bell, who went over in the corner. Joe Carlisle’s conversion was unsuccessful, leaving Wasps eight minutes to either hang on to the bonus point, or steal an unlikely victory.
They withstood one ferocious onslaught, in which Tuilagi and Goneva both came close. With four minutes left, Leicester turned down a simple penalty, in pursuit of the bonus point try. They were rewarded when replacement scrum-half David Mele finished off an unstoppable catch and drive in the right corner. Williams missed the difficult conversion. Despite one last attack, Wasps were unable to secure a bonus point.
London Wasps will now turn their attention to next Saturday’s big occasion at Twickenham, when they face Gloucester Rugby in The Stinger. To buy tickets to this crucial game for Wasps season as the men in black and gold battle for the 7th place European play-off click here.