Wasps win Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series

On a sun-drenched afternoon at The Ricoh, Wasps ended eight trophyless years with a thrilling victory in a pulsating final of the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s.

Their victory over Exeter Chiefs avenged their last-gasp defeat earlier in the competition,  when Exeter stole the spoils in Group B at Sandy Park. An epic encounter, in which the lead kept changing hands, rounded off a magnificent afternoon of rugby.

The opening game was between Cardiff Blues and Sale Sharks. After a scrappy start, five minutes elapsed before Owen Jenkins gave Cardiff the lead, with an unconverted try. The Welsh side stretched their lead in the final minute of the half, with a solo effort from Johnny Lewis. The conversion was missed, leaving the halftime score at 10-0 to Cardiff.

Sale made the perfect start to the second half, when Tom Curry ran in from halfway eighteen seconds after Cardiff kicked off. James Mitchell was unable to add the extra points. Two minutes later, Ben Curry went over between the posts and Mitchell’s conversion put his side ahead for the first time.

Cardiff responded immediately, with a second try from Owen Jenkins. Ethan Davies converted, to reclaim the lead. Sale then drew level with a try in the corner from Paolo Odugwu. Mitchell’s conversion went in off the post, to give Sale a 19-17 lead, with under two minutes to play. They sealed their place in the semi-finals, when Curtis Langdon had the strength to shake off a despairing tackle and go over in the corner. The conversion was missed, but Cardiff’s final attack ended with a pass sailing into touch, leaving the final score 24-17.

Next up were Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints. It took just thirty seconds for the  West Country side to open the scoring with a fine individual effort from skipper Sam Simmonds, whose late score had beaten Wasps in the final game of Group B, at Sandy Park. Nick Mason added a second try within seconds of the restart, and Exeter took firm hold of the game when Matt Jess crossed in the corner. Joe Simmonds landed a fine conversion, to open up a commanding 17-0 lead.

Northampton opened their account with a try by Tom Emery, following a powerful burst by James Fish. Emery converted his own score, but Exeter came roaring back with a flowing passage of play which ended with Matt Jess cutting inside for his second try.  Joe Simmonds converted, to make the halftime score 24-7.

Thirty seconds into the second half, Jess completed his hat-trick, after stepping inside two defenders, to touch down between the posts. Another simple conversion took the lead to 31-7. A sixth try followed, with just over three minutes left, after Ted Landry spotted a huge gap in midfield, to run in from halfway, leaving himself the simplest of conversions.

Jasper Dix scored a consolation try for Northampton in the final minutes, leaving Exeter convincing 38-12 winners.

The third quarter-final was the eagerly awaited clash between Wasps and their historic rivals, Harlequins. Quins had all the early possession, and it took an excellent tackle by Christian Wade to deny them the opening score. They kept up the pressure and took the lead with a try by ex-Wasp Oscar Hirskyj-Douglas, in the third minute.

Wasps made their first significant attack, when Craig Hampson broke away from a lineout deep inside his own half. He was stopped inside the Quins 22, and Wasps were then penalised at the breakdown. The disappointment was short-lived, as Christian Wade ended an excellent passage of play with a fifth-minute try, which Hampson could not convert.

Wasps took the lead on the stroke of halftime, when skipper Josh Bassett showed impressive strength, to force his way through two defenders and crash over in the corner. Hampson’s conversion hit the post, and the halftime score was 10-5 to Wasps.

Wasps had several opportunities in the opening minutes of the second half, but were let down by poor handling. They were made to pay for their lapses, when Cam Cowell broke away from his own 22, to touch down between the posts, and his conversion put Quins back in front. The lead lasted only seconds, as Christian Wade combined with Josh Bassett, who went over for his second try, which was converted by Owain James.

As the game entered the final minute, Quins drew level with a try by Jonas Mikalcius, in the left corner. Cowell’s conversion went in off the post, to give Quins a two-point lead, with only seconds left to play.

With defeat staring them in the face, Wasps snatched a dramatic victory, after the Quins restart went into touch. They launched a final attack, and Christian Wade sent Tom Howe over for a thrilling try in the left corner. Owain James landed a superb conversion to make the final score 24-19 and set up a semi-final against the winners of the last quarter-final, between Newcastle Falcons and Ospreys.

The Premiership side went ahead after 75 seconds, with a try and conversion by Tom Catterick. Ospreys drew level after three minutes with a Morgan Williams try, converted by Joseph Scrivens. They went ahead just before halftime with a second try from Williams, again converted by Scrivens. With the clock at zero, Newcastle narrowed the gap with Adam Radwan’s unconverted try.

Tom O’Flaherty’s try stretched the lead after a minute of the second half, with Scrivens converting to put his side 21-12 ahead. Ospreys added a fourth try, scored by Jonathan Phillips  and converted by Scrivens, before Tom Fitch went over in the corner for Newcastle, with a minute left. The final score was 28-17 to Ospreys, which left a semi-final line-up of Sale Sharks against Exeter Chiefs and Ospreys against Wasps.

Exeter began the first semi-final strongly, but were unable to turn some impressive approach work into points, and it was Sale who opened the scoring, when Tom Curry finished a breakaway attack from near his own line, in the fourth minute. James Mitchell converted, but Exeter drew level a minute before the break, when Sam Simmonds wriggled over and brother Joe added the conversion.

Seconds before halftime, Sale regained the lead, when Paolo Odogwu stole round the blind side and ran half the length of the field for a fine try. Mitchell’s conversion made the halftime score 14-7.

Sale went further ahead with Nick Scott’s well-worked try, in the first minute of the second half. Mitchell again converted, to take the score to 21-7. An excellent individual score by Tom Hendrickson, converted by Joe Simmonds, brought Exeter back into the game. They drew level, with three minutes left, when Simmonds converted his brother Sam’s try, after Sale lost possession, as they tried to attack from their own line.

Exeter struck the decisive blow, when Harrison Cully touched down near the left corner, 45 seconds from time. Simmonds missed the difficult conversion, but Exeter were 26-21 winners.

Wasps struck the first blow in the second semi-final, when Brendan Macken’s neat short pass sent Guy Thompson over between the posts, inside two minutes. Craig Hampson converted, but

Ospreys drew level, when Tom O’Flaherty slipped past a series of tacklers, to score between the posts and Joseph Scrivens landed the conversion.

O’Flaherty’s second try then put his side ahead, when he intercepted Guy Thompson’s one-handed offload, to run in from 40 metres. Scrivens had another simple conversion, to make the score 14-7, a minute before halftime. Wasps scored with the final play of the half, when Frank Halai crashed over, to complete a flowing move.  Hampson was on target with the conversion, to leave things all square at the break.

The opening minutes of the second half were punctuated by errors, but Wasps broke the deadlock, with three minutes left, when a darting run by Christian Wade gave Tom Howe a clear run in to the right corner. Craig Hampson missed the conversion, but Wasps were soon back on the attack, when Wade pounced on an error to launch another attack, which ended when O’Flaherty was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knockon.

Nick De Luca then crossed near the posts, only for the score to be ruled out for a knock-on, although the ball appeared to come off his head. After a series of Ospreys penalties, near their own line, Wasps sealed the win, when Wade went over in the last play of the game, making the final score 24-14. The result set up a repeat of the Pool B final, won by Exeter on their home ground.

The opening score of the final went to Wasps, when Guy Thompson went over, to finish a move begun by a powerful run by Frank Halai, with two minutes played. Craig Hampson missed the conversion. A second try came after five minutes, when Halai took Nick De Luca’s long pass, to run in from 30 metres. This time, Hampson’s conversion found the  target.

Exeter hit back, with Max Bodily’s try, in the final minute of the half. Joe Simmonds converted, to narrow the gap to five points. Exeter then took the lead, with a second try from Bodily, from a pass which looked suspiciously forward. Simmonds converted, to make the interval score 14-12 to Exeter.

A minute into the second half, Wasps were back in front, when Tom Howe won the race to his own kick ahead and touch down for an unconverted try, near the left corner. Almost immediately, Exeter took advantage of some weak tackling, when Sam Simmonds went over between the posts, and his brother converted, making the score 21-17.

The lead changed hands yet again, with a vintage try from Christian Wade, who raced away down the left, before veering infield for a spectacular score, which Hampson converted.

The see-saw nature of the game continued, when Max Bodily completed his hat-trick, two minutes from time.  Simmonds converted, putting his side 28-24 in front.

Inside the final minute, Wasps regained the lead, when Tom Cruse finished off a glorious move down the right. Owain James landed the conversion, but then sent his restart into touch, giving Exeter one last chance to snatch the spoils. They seemed certain to score down the right, but Alex Rieder produced a match-winning tackle, to send them into touch, and the final whistle blew, with Wasps 31-28 winners. A thrilling end to a memorable match and a highly entertaining afternoon.