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After conceding 17 points inside the first 15 minutes Wasps took a huge step towards a European playoff place, with a bonus point win over an impressive Newcastle side whose form belied their league position.
Wasps came back from that turbulent start to score 29 unanswered points, before the visitors rallied to reclaim the lead. But the home side kept their cool to go back in front, before making the game safe with two late tries.
The visitors got off to a dream start, with a try after little more than a minute. After Joe Simpson cleared from his own 22, Sinoti Sinoti counterattacked and slipped through a series of tackles. Alex Tait and Gonzalo Tiesi continued the move and the centre fed Mike Blair, who went over between the posts. Joel Hodgson added the conversion.
Newcastle continued to apply the pressure and Wasps went further behind after ten minutes when Hodgson landed a penalty, following a breakdown offence just inside the Wasps 22.
This stung Wasps into action, and they finally put together a series of controlled phases to build up a promising position out wide on the left only for Andy Goode to deliver a marginally forward pass on the Newcastle 10-metre line. It proved costly, as Newcastle immediately added a second try with a counterattack from Andrea Masi’s high kick. Alex Tait burst through the middle of the Wasps defence. He found Hodgson in support and was tackled just short of the line, but his momentum took him over near the right corner. He then added the conversion to stretch the lead to 17-0 with 15 minutes gone.
Wasps responded with another period of sustained pressure, which produce two penalties inside the Newcastle. Both were sent to the corner. The first catch and drive was stopped illegally, the second ended with Nathan Hughes crossing for a much-needed try. Andy Goode’s conversion went wide.
A second try followed soon afterwards, again from a catch and drive following a penalty to the corner. This time, it was Ashley Johnson who applied the finishing touch, a few metres from the left corner. Goode landed a fine conversion, to reduce the Newcastle lead to 17-12 with 13 minutes of the half to play.
Wasps then produced their best attack of the match, when Carlo Festuccia broke away from a maul just inside his own half. After several phases which stretched the defence, Newcastle conceded a penalty near their own line with James Fitzpatrick being shown a yellow card. Goode went for the posts and his kick narrowed the gap to two points.
Wasps then came close to taking the lead, when Tom Varndell chipped into the 22 after a super run by Joe Launchbury. Noah Cato was beaten by the bounce, but Varndell knocked on as he tried to gather with the unmarked Andrea Masi inside him.
Wasps were not to be denied, and they took the lead as the half entered injury time. Will Helu made ground down the right, before feeding Ashley Johnson who was stopped a few metres out. James Haskell then went for the line, before Nathan Hughes gathered to cross for his second try. Goode’s conversion made the score 22-17, with two minutes of added time left.
Wasps added their fourth try, after Elliot Daly broke away down the right. He chipped over the defence and gathered his own kick, before delivering an inside pass. It evaded Will Helu, but bounced into the arms of Joe Simpson who went over unopposed. Goode’s conversion made the halftime score 29-17 - a remarkable turnaround after such a difficult start for the Men in Black and Gold.
At halftime, news came through that Stade Francais had clinched seventh place in the Top 14, so Wasps now know who their European playoff opponents would be should they finish seventh in the Aviva Premiership.
Wasps made one change for the second half, with Sam Jones taking the place of Nathan Hughes. He only stayed on the field for four minutes, as he went down following a heavy collision and went off for a concussion check. While he was being treated on the field, Wasps threatened a fifth try after Joe Simpson gathered a loose ball to send Tom Varndell away down the left, but the defence did well to force him into touch.
Elliot Daly then broke away down the right, before sending a long kick towards the corner. Sinoti went back to gather, Daly caught him in possession but Newcastle were able to clear.
Sam Jones then returned to the action as Hodgson lined up a 35-metre penalty from in front of the posts. His kick hit the outside of the right upright and bounced to safety.
Newcastle then came close to a try of their own from another counterattack by Tait. When play moved back out to the left, Gonzalo Tiesi had the unmarked Mark Wilson outside him, but his pass sailed into touch, just outside the Wasps 22.
After some dazzling footwork by Sinoti, James Fitzpatrick was stopped just short. Recycled ball was moved out to the right, and Noah Cato slipped under the stumbling Tom Varndell to scramble over in the corner. Hodgson landed a superb conversion to narrow the gap to five points after 17 minutes of the second period.
A well-controlled catch and drive then won Newcastle a penalty just outside the Wasps 22. They went for the corner and set up another catch and drive. This time, the Wasps pack repelled the first drive but Newcastle moved the ball out wide to the left before coming back across the field for Cato to go over in the corner for his second try. Hodgson’s touchline kick had just enough to drop over the crossbar and put his side back in front.
Straight from the restart, Newcastle conceded a penalty inside their 22. Goode turned down the kick for the posts but overhit his touch kick, allowing Newcastle to clear the pressure with a 22 drop out.
Within a minute Goode made up for his error, with a perfect crossfield kick to Will Helu, who gathered superbly to go over near the right corner. Goode was unable to add the extra points, leaving the score at 34-31 with under 15 minutes left.
Goode found touch with another penalty to the corner. When Wasps won the lineout, Goode chipped over the defence and Charlie Hayter was taken out as he went for the ball. Goode landed a simple penalty from in front of the posts to stretch the lead to 37-31, inside the final ten minutes.
Wasps made the game safe following another unstoppable drive down the left. When the ball was released just inside the Newcastle 22, Charlie Davies made a few metres before sending Charlie Hayter over between the posts. Another Goode conversion took the score to 44-31 and Wasps’ highest Premiership score of the season with seven minutes still to play.
Wasps pressed hard for another try, but Newcastle kept them out in the closing minutes. It was the visitors who finished the strongest with replacement hooker George McGuigan going over in the final minute, after Wasps had lost Charlie Hayter and MOTM James Haskell to the sin bin.
Hodgson’s conversion meant they picked up two bonus points and their Premiership survival was guaranteed, with Saracens beating bottom-placed Worcester.
The result puts Wasps nine points ahead of eighth-placed Exeter, who still have two games to play.
Wasps finish their regular Premiership season next week, when they are away to Northampton Saints.