Wasps made their bow in the new Under-18 Academy League with a gutsy victory over London Irish, at Maidenhead RFC. The match was played in miserable, wet conditions, but the superb all-weather pitch ensured that conditions underfoot were excellent throughout. There were handling errors galore, and the sort of wayward passing to be expected, when a team plays together for the first time, but both sides showed plenty of enterprise, to give the sizeable crowd a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.
Wasps showed great character to fight back, after going behind to a late try, and clinching victory with a try by replacement flyhalf Owain James, two minutes from time.
It was Wasps who created the first scoring opportunity, after five minutes. They ran the ball from their own 22, and fullback George Saunders timed his entry to the line perfectly, to break through the Irish defence. He had left-winger Joel Harvey outside, with a clear 40 metre run in to the line, but Harvey could not hang on to his pass.
Irish went ahead on 11 minutes, after Wasps flyhalf Jake Elias overhit a penalty to the corner, sending the ball into touch in goal. Play was brought back to halfway, Irish attacked strongly from the scrum, and forced a penalty, 35 metres out, and 15 metres in from touch. Brett Heron made no mistake with the kick.
Six minutes later, Wasps went ahead with a glorious counterattacking try by Joel Harvey, to make up for his previous handling error. Irish were attacking strongly, but the Wasps defence forced a turnover, just outside their 22. They moved the ball quickly out to the left, and Harvey received the ball, just inside his own half. He rounded one defender, before accelerating away, and using clever changes of pace to beat three more Irish players and cross for a magnificent score. Elias added the extra points, to give his side a 7-3 lead.
Wasps came close to a second try, when Harvey fielded a poor clearance, and made inroads into the Irish defence. He came infield, and the ball was worked out to right winger Tom Howe, who had two defenders in front of him inside the home 22. He cut inside, and tried an ambitious offload to skipper Alex Lundberg, who was up in support, but the ball flew into touch.
Irish responded positively, after lax Wasps defence and a poor kick chase gave them far too much space to counterattack. They moved the ball out to the left, and winger Tom Fowlie went over in the corner, only to be called back for a forward pass.
Irish were now dominating territory, and winning a series of turnovers, but they lost their captain, Tom McDonald, to the sin bin, three minutes before the break.
There was no further score before halftime, and it was Wasps who created the first incisive attack of the second half. George Saunders came into the line, and sent Tom Howe clear, down the left, but his pass to the winger was ruled to have gone forward.
Eight minutes into the half, Irish regained the lead, following a well-placed kick to the corner by Brett Heron. Saunders went for the ball, but an awkward bounce saw him knock on, and Heron, who had followed up well, gathered to go over for an opportunist try between the posts. he converted his try, and Irish now led 10-7.
Six minutes later, Harvey showed excellent handling skills, to pluck a high kick from the air, before embarking upon another penetrative run. Wasps made ground down the left, before moving play back infield. Elias sent a kick towards the corner, and had a stroke of luck, as an Irish hand knocked on, giving Wasps an attacking scrum, a few metres from the line. The forwards duly produced quick ball, and flanker Tom Spinks powered his way over for a try. Elias kicked the conversion, and Wasps again led by four points, with just over 20 minutes to go.
Ten minutes from time, sustained Irish pressure led to a powerful forward drive, which ended with the pack forcing their way over the Wasps line. Winger Tom Fowlie applied the finishing touch, beneath a pile of bodies. Heron’s conversion made the score 17-14.
Wasps now showed great spirit, and took the game to Irish. They twice came desperately close to regaining the lead. First, they turned down a kick at goal, and a quick tap penalty launched a series of drives, at the end of which Alex Lundberg was carried over the line by his pack, but was unable to ground the ball.
A minute later, Tom Spinks took another quick tap, in the shadow of the posts. He forced his way over, but the defence again prevented the ball being grounded.
When aggressive Irish defence pushed replacement flyhalf Owain James 15 metres into touch, the home side thought they had weathered the late Wasps storm, but the lineout led to a Wasps scrum. Wasps won the ball, and made a series of drives for the line, before the ball was fed out to James, who managed to wriggle through to cross the line for the matchwinning try, under the posts. He converted his own try, Wasps held out for the final minute, and the whistle blew on a thrilling Wasps victory.
After the game, Academy Coach Chris Lloyd said “At times today we looked a bit disjointed, like a first run out together and that is exactly what it was. Credit to the boys though because they really pulled together and showed some real quality at times. This is a very honest and positive group of players and they know we left quite a few points out on the field together and this means that when we tidy up some details I am sure we will play both exciting and effective rugby.”
“We know we will need to be better because as this league progresses it will become about which players and teams learn the quickest and this was a performance we can learn plenty from.
The lads enjoyed the game and enjoyed the support from our fans and the many parents that made the trip to Maidenhead.”
“A particularly pleasing aspect for me is that 2 of the tries were scored by 16 year olds and anyone who saw the first from Joel Harvey will I am sure describe it as a wonder try. The match winning try from Owain James who is still in the U16’s even though a little less spectacular did show real competitive spirit and courage. All in all, there is more to come from us but a gutsy win against local rivals.”
London Wasps U18 team
George Saunders; Tom Howe, Alex Harrison, Morgan Ward, Joel Harvey; Jake Elias, Akira Takenaka; Alex Lundberg ©, George Davis, Will Stuart, David Hughes, Jake O’Leary, Tom Kynge, Tom Spinks, Oskar Hirsky-Douglas
Replacements: Ian Brown, George Edgson, Tom West, Shek Sherriff, Connor Morrison , Toby Atkinson-Coyle, Owain James, Dan Barnes, Jackson Burton