Wasps kickstart 2017/18 with a win in Belfast

Ulster Rugby 15-26 Wasps

Wasps began their pre-season schedule with an encouraging victory over their Champions Cup pool opponents. On a night in which early rain made for tricky handling conditions. They twice came from behind to end up comfortable winners, scoring four tries to Ulster’s two.

Ulster had the better of the opening minutes, after Brett Herron turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner. Several attempts to drive the lineout were resisted, and the ball was moved out to the backs, but the Wasps defence eventually forced a penalty to relieve the pressure. Following a lineout on halfway, food work by Gaby Lovobavalu and Marcus Watson took play up towards the 22, and another penalty gave Wasps an attacking lineout. They won possession, but Wasps' running lines were confused and they fumbled the ball.

Wasps kept up the pressure and began to go through the phases in fluent fashion. They went ahead in the 11th minute, after an excellent move down the right ended with Craig Hampson going over for a try near the posts. Cipriani added the conversion. 

The Wasps lineout defence showed itself to be working well, after Ulster sent another penalty to the corner. The home pack was unable to put together an effective drive, and Wasps were awarded a scrum which yielded a penalty, and Danny Cipriani found touch on halfway. They won the lineout and moved the ball out wide to the left, but were unable to hang on to possession and conceded a penalty in midfield, 35 metres out. This time, Brett Herron went for the posts and his successful kick cut the lead to 7-3, with 22 minutes gone.

They were soon back on defence, when an attack down the right broke down, and the loose ball was kicked deep into their 22, where it was scrambled into touch, a few metres out. From the lineout, the ball was fed to the backs and Stuart McCloskey had a chance to go for the line, but defensive pressure forced a knock-on, a few metres to the left of the posts. Wasps immediately conceded a free-kick at the scrum, to give the home side an excellent attacking opportunity.

They opted for a scrum and Paul Marshall broke to the blind-side, but his long pass was intercepted by Marcus Watson, only for the referee to take play back for an Ulster penalty. They took it quickly and moved the ball quickly out to the right, where lock Pete Browne forced his way through two defenders to cross for a try. Brett Herron’s conversion attempt went wide, to leave his side 8-7 ahead, with 12 minutes of the half to play.

Wasps threatened , when a driving maul down the right made 20 metres, before possession was spilt, a few metres inside the home 22. They were soon back on the attack, after a Danny Cipriani penalty found touch on the other side of the field, just inside the 22. The lineout was won, but a short pass was spilt, and the position was lost.

A minute later, Cipriani put another penalty into touch, just inside the 22. This time, a short drive was followed by quick passing along the line and Wasps again built some momentum to create an overlap on the left, but a stray pass was hacked downfield, and Rob Miller did well to snuff out the danger. Although the  early rain had stopped, the greasy ball was proving difficult for both sides, and it was soon Ulster’s turn to knock on in a promising position, a few metres outside the Wasps 22. A minute before halftime, Wasps regained the lead, after a well-controlled lineout drive ended with Simon McIntyre going over for a try near the left corner. Danny Cipriani landed the conversion, to give Wasps a 14-8 halftime lead.

Ulster were back in front after three minutes of the second half, after number 8 Nick Timoney charged through the middle to send Callum Patterson over by the posts. Pete Nelson’s conversion gave the home side a 15-14 lead. Wasps had an early chance to respond, with Gaby Lovombavalu’s break taking play to within metres of the line, but the slippery ball was again dropped.

An impressive run by Owain James took play deep into the Ulster 22, before Tom Cruse and Jake Cooper-Woolley went close out on the right. Wasps now had acres of space out on the left, but a long pass did not go to hand, and Callum Patterson hacked downfield. Owain James did well to cover back and gather, 15 metres inside his own 22. He fedLovobalavu, who launched a thrilling counterattack, which ended with Josh Bassett going over near the left corner. There was no conversion but that left Wasps 19-15 ahead. A fine run by Brendan Macken almost set up a fourth Wasps try, but Wasps proceede to then lose the ball in the tackle, a few metres from the line.

A rumbling 30-metre drive by the Wasps forwards led to a scrum, 10 metres from the Ulster line. Dan Robson broke to the right, and Danny Cipriani went over for a  fine try. He converted, to stretch the lead to 26-15, as the game entered the final quarter.

Ten minutes from time, Wasps lost a lineout near their own line, setting up a ferocious assault on the line. After a series of charges was stopped just short, they had an overlap out on the left, but a wild pass sailed harmlessly into touch. Wasps then conceded a free-kick, for taking too long to form a lineout, and Ulster again threatened their line, but the ball was lost, a couple of metres out.

Although Ulster spent most of the last ten minutes camped in the Wasps half, they were unable to break down the defence  and it was Wasps who came closest to a final score, after Dan Robson  and Rob Miller combined well down the left, to make 50 metres. The final play saw the home side trying to run the ball from their own half, but failing to make any ground, before a knock-on, ten metres inside their half, ended the evening.

Wasps continue their pre-season schedule back at the Ricoh Arena on Wednesday 23 August as the men in black and gold take on Connacht Rugby, kick off 7.30pm, with tickets for the game available to purchase online at www.wasps.co.uk/tickets

The regular Aviva Premiership season then kicks off as Wasps host Sale Sharks on the opening weekend at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday 2 September, kick off 3pm. Tickets for the season opener are on sale at www.wasps.co.uk/tickets