It was only the woodwork which denied them a superb victory, as Nick Robinson’s conversion of Phil Swainston’s late try came back off the post. Victory in the return game would put them in pole position
After a couple of early errors, including a Charlie Davies knock-on from a lineout near halfway, Wasps won a scrum against the head and Ashley Johnson broke away down the left to feed Tom Varndell. He chipped ahead into the Bayonne 22.
The home side managed to clear, but Johnson was back to gather the clearance and launch an attack which again took Wasps deep into home territory, with a storming charge from Phil Swainston catching the eye.
Wasps failed to make the most of the position and soon conceded a penalty which gave Bayonne the chance to set up an attacking lineout near the left corner. They posed their first serious attacking threat when they moved the ball out to the left but the final pass to Cedric Heymans was knocked on. Wasps won the resultant scrum , five metres from the line, and cleared to near halfway.
Christian Wade had his first run of the evening after 14 minutes, when a long Bayonne throw to the lineout went astray and Wasps snapped up the loose ball. Chris Bell threw a long pass out to the right, and Wade showed his eel-like ability to wriggle through tackles, before being stopped just inside the 22. When play came back to the left, Nick Robinson slipped through a gap but was unable to find support. The ball was recycled and the flyhalf kicked towards the right corner but centre Sam Gerber made a comfortable mark, under no pressure.
Neither side was able to establish any rhythm, and the game was punctuated by poor kicking and wayward passing. It wasn’t until the 25th minute that the first scoring opportunity presented itself, when Wasps were penalised at a scrum on their 10-metre line, and Jacques-Louis Potgieter lut his side ahead with a fine kick.
Wasps came close to a try, following the most fluent move of the night, in which play went left and right, and James Cannon made a powerful burst into the 22 before Nick Robinson chipped through the defence and seemed set to win the race to the ball. Just short of the line, he was unable to control it and Bayonne ended up with a penalty.
Six minutes before the break, Bayonne came close to the game’s opening try with a devastating forward drive which covered a good 30 metres before being stopped on the line. They were awarded a penalty and chose to take a scrum. Another powerful drive reached the line but they were unable to get the ball down in a pile of bodies.
Several minutes of intense pressure severely stretched the Wasps defence but they seemed to have weathered the storm when they were awarded a scrum close to their line. Ashley Johnson broke down the blind side but was stopped immediately and Charlie Davies’s hurried clearance only made a few metres.
Bayonne won the lineout and the forwards set up a position for scrumhalf Cedric Garcia to send an inch-perfect kick to the right corner, where winger Marvin O’Connor was on hand to touch down for a deserved try just seconds before the break. Potgieter’s superb conversion made the halftime score 10-0 leaving Wasps facing an uphill struggle in the second half.
Wasps made one change at the break, with Elliot Daly replacing Hugo Southwell at fullback who had hobbled off. He was immediately involved, with a fine clearance from near his line making over 50 metres. He then gathered a kick inside his 22, hoisted it downfield, and won the race to the ball, only to lose control, as he went up to gather, on the Bayonne ten-metre line.
After James Haskell won a fine turnover in midfield, Christian Wade joined the line to take play deep into the Bayonne 22, in the first threatening Wasps attack of the half. It yielded a penalty, a few metres in from touch. Nick Robinson went for goal, and struck the ball well, only to see it bounce back, off the left post.
Tom Varndell then came off his wing with a fine crossfield run, which stretched the defence. It was a counterattacking run by Elliot Daly which set up the position from which Wasps finally opened their account. Bayonne were penalised, on their ten-metre line, and Robinson’s fine kick made it 10-3. With Joe Simpson now on for the injured Charlie Davies, Wasps were beginning to find another gear, and Daly was again involved in a fine sweeping move down the left. Tom Varndell came infield and found Christian Wade, but the defence was in place, to stop him, before he could hit full speed.
In the 58th minute, Wasps came roaring back into the game, with a magnificent try by Wade. They gathered a kick ahead, a few metres inside their half. The ball was fed to the winger, who sent a chip downfield. It came within a whisker of the touchline but stayed in play and Wade was there to gather and cross for a superb score. Robinson’s conversion drifted wide, but Wasps were now just two points behind, and playing with much more confidence.
Jonathan Poff and Joe Launchbury took the places of Sam Jones and James Cannon, as the game moved into the final quarter. With 14 minutes left, Wasps were penalised at a scrum, following a knock-on by Christian Wade from a high kick, 35 metres out. Potgieter made no mistake, to stretch the lead to 13-8.
Simon McIntyre and Rhys Thomas were the next Wasps replacements, coming on for Zak Taulafo and Tom Lindsay. Thomas made an immediate impact, with a storming run from a lineout, before feeding Joe Launchbury, who came on to the ball at pace, to make valuable ground. The ball was quickly moved out to the left and Tom Varndell went over in the corner. The referee consulted the TMO, who ruled that the winger had put his foot in touch.
Seven minutes from time, a blistering burst by Varndell almost produced a try, but he was stopped just short. Quick ball was moved out to the left, and Phil Swainston went over for the equalising score, near the left corner. He was injured in the process, and replaced by Will Taylor. Agonisingly, Nick Robinson’s conversion hit the post.
With the final kick of the game, Robinson tried a long-range drop goal but it went wide, and the game ended 13-all.
The two teams meet in the return fixture at Adams Park, on Thursday night. Ten days later, on December the 23rd, Wasps entertain Sale Sharks in the Aviva Premiership.
Wasps team: Hugo Southwell (capt.), Christian Wade, Andrea Masi, Chris Bell, Tom Varndell, Nick Robinson, Charlie Davies, Zak Taulafo, Tom Lindsay, Phil Swainston, James Cannon, Marco Wentzel, Sam Jones, James Haskell, Ashley Johnson
Replacements: . T Rhys Thomas, Simon McIntyre, Will Taylor, Joe Launchbury, Jonathan Poff , Joe Simpson
Tommy Bell, Elliot Daly
Bayonne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Marvin O'Connor, 13 Joe Rokocoko, 12 Sam Gerber, 11 Cedric Heymans, 10 Jacques Louis Potgieter, 9 Cedric Garcia, 8 Dwayne Haare, 7 Julien Puricelli, 6 Jean –Joseph Marmouyet, 5 Dewald Senekal, 4 Abdellatif Boutaty, 3 Nemiah Tialata, 2 Gregory Arganese, 1 Aretz Iguiniz (capt.),
Replacements 16 David Roumieu, 17 Pierre Philippe Lafond, 18 Renaud Boyoud, 19 Robin Linde, 20 Guillaume Bernad, 21 Guillaume Rouet, 22 Manu Ahotaeiloa, 23 Lionel Mazars.