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Wasps’ dreams of reaching their first major final in six years were thwarted by a Bath side whose forward power was enough to see them home, in a closely contested Amlin Challenge Cup semi final.
Wasps led at the break, but the decisive period of the game came shortly after halftime. First, Wasps had a try ruled out for a marginally forward pass. Then almost immediately, a poor defensive line-out let Webber in for a soft try to reclaim a lead which was never relinquished.
The Wasps pack made their intentions known in the first minute, when they forced a penalty with a powerful scrum just outside the Bath 22. From 13 metres in from the right touchline, Andy Goode was on target to give Wasps the lead.
After several minutes of Bath possession the Wasps pack again made their presence felt with a 25-metre drive following a lineout a few metres outside their 22. Frustratingly, the release of the ball brought play infield, where Bath won a penalty at the breakdown.
From the resulting lineout, the visitors produced a shorter but equally effective drive of their own which yielded a penalty in a similar position from which Goode had given Wasps the lead. George Ford made no mistake to level the score, with 11 minutes gone.
An excellent restart chase won Wasps a lineout just inside the Bath 22. The initial drive was forced back but Joe Simpson did well to retain possession and the visitors were penalised five metres outside their 22, a few metres to the right of the posts. Andy Goode’s successful kick restored the three-point advantage.
Wasps skipper Chris Bell was then forced to leave the field after taking a heavy knock. He was replaced by Charlie Hayter and James Haskell took on the captaincy. Two minutes later, Wasps were penalised at a lineout just outside their 22 but Ford sent a straightforward kick to the right of the posts.
Wasps then came close to a try-scoring opportunity, when Goode hoisted a kick towards Tom Varndell’s wing. He leapt high but knocked on into the path of Semesa Rokoduguni. The Bath winger had open space in front of him, but was unable to gather. Wasps were penalised at the scrum, Ford found touch near the 22, Bath drove for the line and Anthony Perenise applied the finishing touch to put Bath in front. Ford’s conversion made the score 10-6 with 15 minutes of the half to play.
Inside the last five minutes of the half, Wasps lost a lineout inside their 22 when a long throw went astray. Bath snapped up the ball and made a series of drives for the line only to turn over possession a couple of metres short.
Wasps took the lead with a sensational try, seconds before the break. After Peter Stringer’s attempted clearance was charged down and nearly produced a try, George Ford took a long 22, which Andy Goode gathered just outside his own 22. He passed to Will Helu, who sent Elliot Daly away down the right. He produced a blistering burst of pace to take him deep into Bath territory before delivering a neat one-handed pass back inside to Helu, who stepped inside the covering Ford to go over beneath the posts. Goode’s conversion made the halftime score 13-10.
Bath began the half with a sustained period of possession, in and around the Wasps 22. They took play through numerous phases, without creating an opening, and eventually conceded a penalty which Andy Goode sent to touch on the Bath 22. Wasps won the lineout, and Goode sent a superb diagonal kick to the right wing where Will Helu gathered. He stepped inside Matt Banahan, but lost his footing as he slipped out of the tackle. Joe Launchbury arrived to gather and feed Matt Mullan, who delivered a short pass to Kearnan Myall and the lock stormed over from 20 metres. The referee consulted the TMO and the try was ruled out, for a forward pass.
Within little more than a minute Bath were back in front, after Wasps threw long to a shortened lineout five metres from their own line. Carlo Festuccia’s throw failed to find a Wasps hand and Rob Webber gathered, to crash over. Ford converted, to make the score 17-13, eight minutes into the second half.
The game then exploded into life, with a superb passage of play which almost produced a try for Wasps, after Andrea Masi produced some exquisite skill to gather his own chip ahead. When the ball was moved out to the right, there was a wonderful offload by Elliot Daly before possession was lost and a Bath counterattack stretched the home defence. Wasps then regained possession but Daly sent a kick into touch just outside his 22.
Bath’s powerful pack then struck a significant blow, after two kickable penalties were turned down. From the second, another unstoppable catch and drive produced a second try for Rob Webber and Ford’s conversion stretched the lead 24-13 as the game reached the final quarter.
Wasps then produced a sustained period of pressure, hammering away at the Bath line for several minutes. They were awarded a penalty in front of the posts but Ashley Johnson took a quick tap only to be swallowed up by the defence. Wasps kept the ball alive, but play was stopped abruptly when Charlie Hayter went down and required several minutes of treatment, after his thrust for the line was stopped by a heavy tackle.
When play resumed, Wasps turned down another penalty and the pack gave Bath a dose of their own medicine when a catch and drive powered Ashley Johnson over for a try in the left corner - this time, the TMO ruled in Wasps’ favour. Goode was unable to add the extra points, but the game was now back in the balance with under 15 minutes left.
Hopes of a Wasps comeback appeared to have been dashed straight from the restart, when Jonathan Joseph went over near the posts, but Wasps’ protests persuaded the referee to consult the TMO, and a Bath knock-on was spotted in the build-up.
With five minutes left Kyle Eastmond was shown a yellow card for a tip tackle on Charlie Hayter. Wasps turned down the kick for goal, but the Bath defence withstood another assault and won the scrum put-in, five metres from the line. A penalty followed and Bath were able to play the clock down to clinch their place against Northampton in next month's final in Cardiff.
Wasps are back in action at Adams Park next saturday, where they will face Newcastle Falcons in the penultimate round of the Aviva Premiership. Tickets are available for this crucial clash, as Wasps look to finish in seventh and a European playoff place from www.wasps.co.uk/tickets.