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Dallaglio and co secured another vital win at the Madejski
A record Guinness Premiership club game crowd of 23,709 were once again riveted to their seats as Wasps, trailing for 39 minutes of the first half, went ahead in the second only to allow Irish back in the game with 15 minutes to go. However, another mighty defensive effort in the final minutes, as the Exiles threw everything at them, ensured Wasps another crucial four points as they creep ever closer to the top four in the league.
The win takes Wasps level on points with 6th placed Saracens - who slid one place after losing to Leicester Tigers on Saturday - and within four points of 4th placed Sale, with a game in hand on both the Sharks and fifth placed Harlequins.
Things did not look so rosy as the game kicked off however. Though Wasps had a strong wind at their backs in the first half, it was the Exiles who breezed into an early lead thanks to a second minute try by full back Peter Hewatt. His team had started at full throttle and some excellent offloading and support from the forwards opened up space on the right flank for Hewatt to go over, though fly half Eoghan Hickey could not add the wide conversion.
Man of the Match for a second week in a row - Dave Walder
Having been caught somewhat napping, Wasps attempted to make amends with their first concerted period of attack. Dave Walder, who had another immaculate game with the boot and earned his second consecutive Man of the Match Award as a result of his performance, kicked a penalty to set up a line out at close range, and hooker Joe Ward threw long for the forwards to drive for the line. Referee Rob Debney called on the video ref for a ruling, and though it seems Wasps had crossed the line, the grounding of the ball proved inconclusive and no try was awarded.
Walder got his team off the mark shortly after however, spitting the posts from 40 metres, despite the gusting wind, to bring Wasps back to 5-3 after 15 minutes. Walder and Hickey then exchanged two further penalties, taking the score to 8-6, but the next 25 minutes were characterised by some frustrating handling errors from Wasps which, added to some persistent ball slowing tactics from Exiles pack, prevented Dallaglio and Co from maintaining much in the way of momentum or rhythm in their game.
As the half came to a close however, it was the home side who provided the excitement, as Hewatt once again found space to motor into Wasps 22 and set up a position for his forwards to attack from close range. As the pack picked and drove to edge ever nearer, Wasps defence was fully tested before a penalty allowed Walder to relieve the pressure. Then, as the home side transgressed again, this time just inside their own half, the Wasps man was able to slot his third three pointer of the day, this last act of the half taking Wasps 9-8 ahead at the turn around.
Payne in action for Wasps
With the wind at their backs, the Exiles again came out firing for the start of the second half. They quickly put boot to ball to win territorial advantage, and when winger Sailiosi Tagicakibau received the ball in space on the right he looked to be in for a score before Debney pulled play back for a forward pass.
As in the first half however, Wasps kept their heads and waited for the moment to pounce. It came in the 46th minute when, following some good build up involving Josh Lewsey and a half break from Riki Flutey, Man of the Match Walder took his chance to ghost through the midfield before passing to Flutey for the score.
The conversion took Wasps 16-8 ahead, and though London Irish enjoyed the greater share of possession for the next 20 minutes, their indiscipline allowed Walder another pot at goal to increase the lead to 8-19 on the hour mark.
Lewsey continues to show great form on the domestic stage
With fifteen minutes to go, however, Irish showed how dangerous they, and particularly their pacey wingers, can be from broken play. First there was a let off for Wasps, when a dangerous counter attack allowed the Exiles to overstretch Wasps realigning defence, only for flanker Declan Danaher to put down the pass that would have seen him over the line for the score.
The chance gave the Exiles renewed confidence however, and minutes later Topsy Ojo was gathering a loose ball in his own 22 and rolling out of a couple of poor Wasps tackles to set off on a 70 metre sprint upfield. He was somewhat luckier than Danaher before him, in that referee Debney missed the knock on prior to his break, but the speedy winger took his chance, breaking two more tackles in Wasps 22 before getting his pass away for unmarked fellow winger Tagickaibau to score. Though Hickey missed the conversion, at 13-19 and with 15 minutes remaining, Irish were back in with a sniff.
Walder completed a faultless six from six kicking display with his final penalty in the 75th minute to stretch the lead back to nine, but Wasps then contrived to keep the heat on themselves as they conceded a series if turnovers and then a penalty, that Hickey did well to convert into three points from a tricky angle.
Flutey scores for Wasps against his old side
Back again to just six points behind, the home side threw everything into the final few minutes, but some heroic tackling from forwards and backs alike ensured that Wasps held on for a hard fought, and well deserved win.
"It's another big club win for us," said Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan after the game.
"That's was very hard work but we came back from an early score, the back smartened up a bit in the second half and the forwards really delivered today to get us the win.
"We gave a disappointing try away in the second half but we got our heads down again, gathered ourselves, and did what had to be done. That's a lot of credit to the players for handling that game very well mentally."
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio added, "London Irish are a consistent side and when you look at how many players we were missing, they would have fancied their chances today. I thought we performed well, though we got caught a little bit in the first half with a soft try that was disappointing to concede, and London Irish spent a lot of the game off side. That was frustrating at times, but the referee penalised them for it and we were able to get our noses ahead.
"Although we haven't necessarily climbed that many positions in the table, I think there will be teams looking over their shoulders, knowing Wasps are winning. We'll keep pegging away, we've got a couple of games in hand, and when the internationals come back they will also give us some fresh impetus."
Paying tribute to Man of the Match Walder, McGeechan said, "I think Dave Walder has found a new level to his game and a consistency that I don't think he has ever had before. He has kicked every available point for us in the last two games and that, when you're fighting to be in winning positions, is very important.
"He had a rough time in the early part of the season, but he has responded really well and has a confidence in his game now that wasn't there before. You can see that coming out in the way the team is playing and he's put over some big points in recent games: last kick of game against Bristol , every point on offer against Quins last weekend, and every point today, so now he gets the credit."
Head Coach, Shaun Edwards said, "I'm delighted for Dave. He's hit a rich vein of form that's seen him collect two Man of the Match awards on the trot and he is a very, very positive member of the Wasps squad. Even when he is not in the team, he is a joy to coach and works very, very hard on his game.
"It's also very pleasing that we've only lost one Guinness Premiership game since the World Cup finished, and we starting to get a bit of momentum going now."