Wasps took control of their Amlin Challenge Cup pool with a hard-fought victory over a Bayonne side who had threatened to derail their European campaign.
It was a game which Wasps had to win twice. After 36 minutes of the first half, they led 17-0, but the visitors came storming back. They dominated much of the second half, and only trailed by four points, when Wasps lost Billy Vunipola to the sin bin. But the home side dug deep and clinched the game with a late try from man of the match Andrea Masi.
The result means Wasps now lead the pool by five points, and a bonus point win at home to Mogliano would guarantee them a quarterfinal place.
Wasps got off to a fine start, after safely gathering Bayonne’s kick-off. Joe Simpson sent a kick downfield, and the defence failed to gather. The ball bounced into the arms of Christian Wade, but he was immediately stopped by Dwayne Haare. Wasps kept the ball alive, and Elliot Daly put in a probing run towards the right corner. When play came back infield, Billy Vunipola almost went through. After a series of phases, the defence was caught offside and Stephen Jones landed a straightforward penalty, to open the score, after just two minutes.
Further Wasps pressure led to a scrum penalty, on the Bayonne 22, and Jones was again on target, to make the lead 6-0, after six minutes of play.
Bayonne finally found their way into Wasps territory, following a quick penalty, just inside their own half. When Wasps were adjudged not to have retreated ten metres, the visitors opted for a scrum. Moments later, another scrum produced a penalty , just outside the 22. It looked like a simple three points for Jacques-Louis Potgieter, but his kick went wide.
Four minutes later, Jones made no mistake with his third penalty, from 35 metres, to stretch the Wasps lead to 9-0, with 14 minutes gone. Within a minute, Potgieter had another straightforward chance to open Bayonne’s account, but he again sent his kick wide.
Bayonne’s first prolonged period of possession saw them bringing Joe Rokocoko into the game, but he was unable to make any impact on the solid Wasps defence, and the visitors eventually knocked on, a few metres inside the Wasps half.
Eight minutes before the break, Wasps stretched their lead, with a beautifully-worked try by Elliot Daly. It all began when Billy Vunipola turned over Bayonne possession near halfway. Wasps took the ball through several phases, befoe Daly came into the line at speed. He fed Christian Wade, who made ground down the right, before returning the ball to the fullback, who had a clear run in for a fine score. Stephen Jones missed the conversion, but Wasps now had a 14-0 lead.
Things got even better for Wasps, after Scott Spedding was sent to the sin bin for a challenge on Elliot Daly, as he went up for a high kick. The fullback needed treatment, but then stepped up to bang over the penalty, from a few metres inside his own half, giving Wasps a comfortable looking 17-0 lead.
With the game and their quarterfinal chances, slipping away from them, Bayonne mounted their best attack of the evening, in the final minute of the half, and sustained pressure ended with Joe Rokocoko going over in the left corner. Potgieter’s conversion made the halftime score 17-7 – a deserved lead for the home side, but not yet enough for them to be safe.
During the interval, a large medical team gathered around Bayonne’s Julien Puricelli, who had gone down injured, during the buildup to their try. After several minutes, he left the field on a stretcher, to sympathetic applause. His place was taken by Abdellatif Boutaty, at the start of the second half. For Wasps, Joe Launchbury replaced Tom Palmer.
The visitors began the half strongly, and several phases of play ended with them being awarded a penalty, just outside the Wasps 22, and in front of the posts. Spedding’s kick narrowed the Wasps lead to just seven points.
Wasps responded with a move which gave Christian Wade a glimmer of a chance down the right, but the defence stopped him before he could pose a major threat. Almost immediately, Andrea Masi split the Bayonne defence, with a fine run down the left. With the referee playing an advantage, Daly tried a chip to the corner, but Christian Wade was just beaten to the touchdown. Play went back to the point of the penalty, just to the left of the posts, and Stephen Jones restored the ten-point advantage.
It lasted just over a minute, before Potgieter landed another penalty. The visitors then came close to a try, after Marvin O’Connor gathered Joe Simpson’s clearance, and slipped through some poor tackles, to break clear. He was eventually brought down near the 22, and Wasps eventually forced a penalty, giving Stephen Jones the chance to ease the pressure, but his kick missed touch and Bayonne were back on the attack.
The visitors were now gaining the ascendancy, as Wasps made further replacements, with Tom Lindsay and Sam Jones making way for Rhys Thomas and Jonathan Poff.
As the game entered the final quarter, another Potgieter penalty narrowed the gap to just four points, and Wasps were then dealt another blow when Billy Vunipola was sent to the sin bin for an illegal tackle on Joe Rokocoko.
Despite being a man down, the Wasps defence held firm, and the home side came close, when a high kick from Joe Simpson was not gathered, and Christian Wade gathered the bouncing ball – again, the Bayonne defence managed to get back and stop him, just outside the 22.
The nerves were now really jangling, but Wasps were given a boost by the return of Vunipola from the sin bin, encouraged by not conceding a score during his absence.
With just six minutes left, James Haskell produced a glorious 30-metre run, to split open the Bayonne defence. He was brought down on the 22, but the ball was recycled quickly, and man of the match Andrea Masi powered his way over near the left corner. Nick Robinson landed a fine conversion, and then added a 40-metre penalty, to give Wasps a 14 point lead.
With three minutes left. Bayonne threw everything into a final attempt to secure a bonus point, but Wasps gave them nothing, and the game ended with the home side deserved winners.
Wasps return to Premiership action on Sunday, the 23rd of December, when Sale Sharks are the visitors to Adams Park.
London Wasps team:
15 Elliot Daly 14 Christian Wade 13 Andrea Masi 12 Chris Bell 11 Tom Varndell 10 Stephen Jones 9 Joe Simpson 1 Tim Payne 2 Tom Lindsay 3 Zak Taulafo 4 James Cannon 5 Tom Palmer 6 Sam Jones 7 James Haskell (c) 8 Billy Vunipola
16 T Rhys Thomas 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Will Taylor 19 Joe Launchbury 20 Jonathan Poff 21 Charlie Davies 22 Nick Robinson 23 Tommy Bell
15 Scott Spedding 14 Marvin O'Connor 13 Joe Rokocoko 12 Manu Ahotaeiloa 11 Cedric Heymans 10 Jacque- Louis Potgieter 9 Mike Phillips 1 Aretz Iguiniz 2 Gregory Arganese 3 Renaud Boyoud 4 Dewald Senekal 5 Mark Chisholm (capt) 6 Guillaume Bernad 7 Julien Puricelli 8 Dwayne Haare
16 Vitolio Manukula 17 Pierre Philippe Lafond 18 Nemiah Tialata 19 Abdellatif Boutaty 20 Marc Baget-Rabarou 21 Cedric Garcia 22 Thibault Lacroix 23 Lionel Mazars