Heading into the final week of the league format, Wasps Apprentices knew that their destiny was in their own hands. A semi-final berth was already secured and now the job was to gain home advantage in the knock-out round. A tough fixture away at Irish was always going to provide a stern test and this proved to be the case.
Wasps started well and made some good yards through the pack and some telling breaks out wide but were unable to capitalise on these opportunities and only a Jolly penalty to show for the earlier endeavour. A 40m drop goal by the Irish ten levelled the scores before their influential scrum-half darted over from close range after a period of sustained pressure. A penalty just before the break meant the Wasps turned around 13-3 down but with the breeze at their backs they were confident that they could turn the deficit round.
Irish had a strategy to cope with the elements and utilised a tight forward game and box kicking strategy to good effect but Wasps were getting into their stride and two Jack Jolly penalties brought the score back to 13-9. The momentum was shifting in favour of the away side and they were looking to move the ball wide to stretch the bigger Irish pack. This ambition though proved costly as a midfield pass was read by the Irish centre who ran clear to score under the posts. Eleven points down and the home semi-final was slipping away as a bonus point was the minimum required to avoid a trip to Gloucester. The young Wasps battled well and a slick move saw Alex Fan hit a great line to outstrip the defence and score the vital try. Wasps pressed for the win but to their credit Irish controlled the ball well in the closing minutes to secure a win that saw them claim 3rd place in the league.
There was no time for the Wasps boys to agonise about the loss to their near neighbours as the 1st year apprentices next challenge was around the corner, as Sunday saw them take on the England Schools U16 A Team. Wasps fielded an U17 side made up of current apprentices and EPDG players which included a number who will hopefully become a part of next years apprentice intake.
This was the first time the squad had met and after a few handshakes and introductions the preparation began in earnest to meet the challenge of the National team. The watching parents, coaches, family and friends were treated to an open, flowing game of rugby with both sides demonstrating the ambition to move the ball and attack the wide open spaces. The Wasps academy side started brightly and fullback Jonny Walker made some telling breaks and looked to have opened the scoring from one such break. However to the bemusement of many the score was chalked off for an obstruction. Wasps continued to force the pace and captain Mitchell Tamiau was on the end of a fine passage of play and used his strength to crash over the English line. Will Robinson converted for a 7-0 lead.
England then began to win some ball from the set piece and were able to stretch the academy defence and worked the overlap well to score wide out. The conversion was missed but the English team were putting together some good passages of play and only tenacious defence was keeping the Wasps line intact. It seemed as if a score must come as the pressure built, and it did but it was Wasps who made the telling score just before the break. Tamiau and 2nd Row Holland put in a telling hit, this dislodged the ball and his second row partner David Hughes collected the loose ball 90m from the opposition line. Hughes put his foot down and raced clear, the covering defence tried to match his pace but the athletic lock has gas to burn and cantered over between the posts.
The second half started as the first finished, with Wasps crossing for a well worked try. Winger David Onyeme chased and gathered the kick off before making inroads into the 22. The ball was recycled and Tom Pointer who had an excellent game at scrumhalf got his forwards to suck in the English defence before slick hands from the backs saw Charlie Jewers cross wide out. Robinson converted and Wasps lead 21-5. The game ebbed and flowed with both sides making breaks but failing to find the killer blow. Needing a score to get back in the game England threw caution to the wind and were duly rewarded with a score on the left wing. Robinson though was controlling play well at 10 and was a focal point for Wasps attacking play, a penalty goal stretched Wasps lead to 12 points and it looked like the game was won. England though refused to give up and a converted try with 5 minutes to go gave them hope to of staging a remarkable comeback. This appeared to be the case when a misplaced kick resulted in a further English score, the conversion hit the post and Wasps held a slender two point lead going into the final few minutes. Wasps worked the ball well and were camped in the English 22 and looked like they were winding the clock down successfully. A penalty was awarded and whilst everyone expected a kick at goal livewire half-back Pointer tapped and drove this pack towards the line. Eventually a scrum was awarded and the Wasps pack kept the ball tight in an attempt to see out the game, however the ambition was still there and when Robinson saw the time was right the ball was released to the backs and Liam O’Neil crossed for the decisive score. Robinson converted and Wasps ran out deserved winners by 31-22 in what was a highly entertaining and high quality game of rugby.