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Dominic Waldouck breaks for Wasps first try
Wasps second five pointer in a fortnight, which required Dave Walder to convert Mark McMillan's last gasp try with the final kick of the game to secure the win, keeps the Londoners very much in the race for play off qualification. However, Quins' win over Saracens means McGeechan's men remain in 7th place in the league overall, but now trail their two London rivals by just one and three points respectively as things become even tighter at the top of the table.
For both teams this was an important game. Bristol travelled to Adam Park on the back of an excellent win over table-topping West Country rivals Gloucester last weekend, and points were crucial to their hopes of qualifying for Europe next season. Wasps meanwhile continue to nurse the loftier ambitions of a top four finish, but though last weekend's excellent win at Bath kept them in the hunt, this was a different proposition as they came into the game with the confidence of a good win under their belts, but without six regular first teamers, away on Six Nations duty and a further seven, who may have been expected to start, confined the physio room with injury.
David Doherty edges Wasps forward with their second try
However, last weekend's Man of the Match Dominic Waldouck wasted no time in picking up were he left off in Bath, his nifty footwork leading to a try near the posts within three minutes of kick off. Waldouck's impressive solo effort was followed by a well constructed team endeavour for Wasps second score, though it took just another four minutes for the team to put it together. Winning a line out at close quarters, the forwards sucked in players to create a good platform, where swift hands from Waters and Lewsey gave winger David Doherty the space to dive over near the corner.
12 -0 up after 7 minutes, and Wasps had barely allowed the visitors a hand on the ball. But they didn't really need to, as fly half Ed Barnes kicked Bristol onto the score board with a 15th minute penalty, and then Josh Lewsey uncharacteristically fluffed his handling of winger David Lemi's speculative chip ahead, coughing up the ball near the try line to allow Lemi to simply flip up the ball for centre Rob Higgitt to score.
Following such a generous invite back into the game, Bristol took it willingly, looking to the strength of their pack who carried ball into the guts of the Wasps defence, No8 Alfie To'oalo in particular proving dangerous. By contrast, Wasps lighter, more mobile pack were looking to move the ball around and get their offloading game going. Bristol back row's older legs were still up to the challenge at this point though, and were able to contain Wasps lively movement behind the scrum, though they did concede a penalty that allowed Mark Van Gisbergen to put Wasps 15-8 ahead just after half an hour.
Lewsey powers on through Bristol defence
But though Wasps enjoyed much the best of the final 15 minutes of the half, Bristol's attackers were keeping a keen eye for a chance, and it came in the final minutes of the half when winger Anthony Elliott found himself one on one with Lawrence Dallaglio on the right flank. Elliott had space enough to turn on the burners and get past the Wasps captain, and looked to be in for a try as Josh Lewsey, diving for his tackle, was in no position to stop the Bristolian's momentum. However, Mark Van Gisbergen somehow managed to get back and wriggle under his opposite number to deny him the score, though from the resultant scrum Matt Salter executed a simple blind side move with accuracy to ensure Elliott was able to score at this attempt, and suddenly things were level.
Ed Barnes' second penalty edged his side ahead early in the second half, but Wasps soon snatched the lead back when good driving play from the pack allowed hooker Joe Ward to score from close quarters. However, back to back scores from Bristol, one earned when the well drilled forwards rolled a maul over the line, one gifted as Wasps were caught napping from the re-start, switched momentum back in favour of the visitors as the final quarter approached.
It was time for the Wasps forwards to roll up their sleeves, and with McGeechan bringing on fresh legs they started to make inroads. Dave Walder nailed a penalty with just over 10 minutes to go, and Wasps were back within five points.
But having conceded two soft tries already, the home side then threatened to make it a hat-trick. Fortunately, replacement No8 Andrew Blowers, having again burgled Wasps blind side to set off on a 25 metre unopposed sprint to the line, inexplicably checked, tripped and then spilled the ball over the line allowing Wasps supporters to breathe again.
Electric finish for Wasps
Thus the scene was set for a dramatic final five minutes of time ' plus several more once the clock was showing zero. First David Lemi had Wasps nerves jangling as he chipped dangerously ahead into Wasps 22, but Lewsey showed guile in shepherding the ball into touch. Then it was the Wasps full back's turn, Lewsey and Doherty attacking from a quick penalty to get into Bristol's 22. Another penalty, a line out and it looked like the forwards had sucked in enough players to make the space for Van Gisbergen on the right wing. But the visitors scrambled well and shut the door to the line in the nick of time. They did concede a scrum however, allowing Wasps to set up camp on their line for a nailbiting finale.
Wasps battered away at the Bristol line, and were then delayed as Bristol prop Jason Hobson was escorted off the pitch having popped a rib in the pressure cooker of the five metre scrum. But with the clock on zero and no room for error, Wasps discipline and accuracy under pressure was faultless. Four scrums, four penalties: Wasps looked to have the upper hand, and though the crowd bayed for a penalty try, referee Ashley Rowden instead reached for his pocket and carded replacement No8 Blowers. Yet another scrum, and this time replacement scrum half Mark McMillan relieved Dallaglio of the ball at his feet and scuttled round the blind side for the final score.
McMillan and Walder ecstatic over Wasps win
It was not decisive though. At 30 points all, Dave Walder stepped up to take the conversion that would win the game. Ten metres in from touch and with everything hanging on him this was no straightforward attempt, but Walder kept his cool to steer the ball through the posts and secure a dramatic win for his team.
Following the game a very relieved Ian McGeechan said, 'We are very pleased with the end result. Having set off well and got ourselves into a good position we then lost that position. But coming back from behind as we did showed a lot of character in the team and just how much they want it at the moment.
'I think Shaun will be wanting a word about some our defensive play, but we've got a bonus point again, and when there was nothing on the clock I thought our composure in not making a mistake was actually a massive statement.'
Lawrence Dallaglio added, 'I thought we came out of the blocks well first 20 minutes, were really good in the last 20 minutes but we were poor in between. We made careless mistakes for their first and last tries, and it nearly cost us today.
'It is difficult to play, and to defend with consistency when you've so many players in and out of the side due to international rugby, but we fought really hard and now we've just got to hang in there. We're playing the four teams immediately above and below us in the league over the next few weeks and we have to get as many points as we can. But ten points from the last two games is a real lift for us and gives us a real chance now to make the top four, which is where we want to be.'