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London Wasps lost 26-25 to Harlequins in a highly entertaining match at the Stoop.Despite having to weather a storm from Quins in the opening half hour, Wasps took their opportunities to lead 13-15 at half time, thanks to tries from Eoin Reddan and Fraser Waters, Waters added another in the second half, but the boot of Chris Malone and a penalty try for the home side were enough to undo Wasps, although a nail biting three minutes of play after the clock had run down to zero and a last gasp drop goal attempt by Dave Walder kept the crowd on their seats.
Harlequins opened the game with a barrage of attack, Chris Malone using kicks and chips to turn Wasps' rush defence. David Strettle came close to scoring from a Malone cross kick almost from the kick off, but it only took five minutes for Tosh Masson to get on the end of a chip from the Quins No10 and score under the posts, giving the home side a dream start.
Flanker Chris Robshaw and wing Ugo Monye also figured large as the Quins attack continued to run unassuaged at the heart of Wasps defence, but it was Wasps who scored next when captain Eoin Reddan snatched up a loose pass and sprinted from half way to draw Wasps back to 7-5 in the 11th minute.
Malone missed a speculative drop goal in the 18th minute, but with referee Dean Richards already playing the advantage to Quins, Malone has another bite at the cherry with a penalty awarded upon his miss, which he converted to stretch the lead to 5.
From the restart Wasps enjoyed their first good attacking period of the game, concluding with a Flutey drop goal from 45 metres, and their prospects brightened further when Quins scrum half Danny Care was shown a yellow card for obstructing minutes later.
Without their No9, Quins tightened up their game, but when Monye spilled the ball running close to the break down, Wasps were quick to counter, attacking up the blind right wing to give Fraser Waters a 30 metre run to the line, Danny Cipriani adding the extras with a difficult wide conversion.
Following a successful Malone drop goal in the 27th minute, Wasps had another sniff at a score when Cipriani got his hands on another turn over ball shortly before the half hour. He linked well with Waters and mark Van Gisbergen before the Quins cover defence came to the rescue to force a knock on and there was no further score before the turn around, Malone missing his third drop goal attempt and Cipriani pushing wide a penalty opportunity in the final minutes of the half.A ragged start to the second half from Wasps allowed Malone two further attempts at the posts, and he was successful with his second, in the 47th minute, to edge Quins ahead 16-15. Wasps came back strongly however, and Richard Birkett and Tim Payne rove Wasps strongly to within five metres of the line, from where a scrum and series of pick and drive plays created the overlap for Waters to go over for his second try of the day. Cipriani's conversion - another difficult wide kick 'stretched Wasps lead to 16-22.
Harlequins belief was not diminished however, and Wasps were lucky to escape conceding a try minutes later when Strettle threatened to get on the end of Danny Care's grubber through following an Ugo Monye break. Pressure from van Gisbergen and David Doherty averted the score, but as Quins pursued their kicking game, Eoin Reddan we shown a yellow card for obstructing Mike brown's up and under, Malone adding three points from the consequent penalty in the 55th minute.
Cipraini restored Wasps lead to six with a three pointer of his own three minutes later but Harlequins crept back into the lead following a penalty try, conceded from a five metre scrum, just after the hour, Malone's simple conversion from in front of the posts taking his side ahead 26-25.
Wasps had their chances to add to their haul as the last tem minutes played out. Cipriani missed with a long range penalty attempt, and Dave Walder's jinking run into the 22 shortly after set up his team with a good attacking platform, but as often the case, Wasps failed to look after the ball and Quins were able to steal possession and relieve the pressure.
The last two minutes were something of a catalogue of errors however, starting with Malone's kickable penalty attempt in the 78th minute. The kick would have put Wasps out of drop goal range of the lead, but Malone missed a good opportunity, giving Wasps a twenty two. Knowing they did not want to hand back possession, Wasps went for a quick tap and go over the line, but fluffed the move and were penalised for holding on, giving Malone another chance in front of the posts. Inexplicably the Quins No10 missed this chance too, and Wasps made another attempt at their tap and go.
This time they got it right, and calm heads saw them progress up field, into the Quins 22 and drop goal territory, having put a good three minutes of play with the clock on zero and knowing a mistake would be curtains. With Walder in the pocket, the scene was set for a dramatic winning drop goal, but unfortunately the Wasps man hooked his kick, and Quins celebrated their win by the narrowest of margins.
Director fo Rugby Ian McGeechan has these thoughts after the match:
'I don't know how we were still in the game after the first thirty minutes. Quins started very well and looked very sharp - we did well to get any points at all on the board.
'In the second half I felt we got the measure if them, but we weren't ruthless enough in finishing them off. In those minutes of injury time at the end of the game we showed what we can do, but I am disappointed that we didn't play like that for the preceding 80 minutes.'It is always going to be hard when the league and international schedules dictate that we are without a large number of our squad for approximately a third of the season, but today we were only one score from a five point win - though whether we deserved it is a different matter.
'But there were four Academy players in our team today and effectively we have heavily financed England to a World Cup Final. That has probably cost us £300,000 of salaried player time, and we get nothing back in financial reward.
'English clubs are producing English players who know how to win tight games. Their chances of doing it for England increase if they are being required to play like that week in, week out for their clubs.
'Producing English players should be a joint venture and I hope a structure for the game which provides a better balance is not too far away. But at the moment it's not great. Things in the English game do need to be sorted so that we, and other clubs in a similar position to us, have a fighting chance of competing in our domestic competition and providing players for the English cause.'
Head Coach Shaun Edwards said:
'Considering the amount of possession Quins had in the first half we did very well and held our defensive line well. In the second half our lack of discipline meant we made it difficult for ourselves though.
'But overall this was a great game of rugby. There was plenty there for supporters to enjoy and this was a great advert for the Guinness Premiership.
'We knew we were going to struggle in the Guinness Premiership this season because of the way the season is structured, but I still think we are the best team in England when we have got our full team out.'
Referee: Dean Richards