A magnificent, hard fought display by Wasps, with Sam Jones putting in a man of the match performance in the back row, gave the Men in Black and Gold a memorable victory against their old rivals.
Two tries in the opening 15 minutes set them on their way, but they had to dig deep to hang on for the win, which could have been denied them, had Nick Evans been on target with a 79th minute penalty. The win means Wasps are back in the top four, after briefly being pushed down to fifth place, after Gloucester’s win at Northampton earlier in the day
After a lively opening few minutes, played largely in Harlequins territory, Wasps had the first scoring chance, when the home side were penalised a few metres outside their 22, in the sixth minute. Nick Robinson went for the posts, but his kick went wide.
Two minutes later, Wasps went ahead, after Nick Evans struggled to control a wild pass from Karl Dickson, on his ten metre line. He had to go back to gather, and then threw a long pass out towards Matt Hopper. Tom Varndell raced up for the interception, and just managed to hang on to the ball, before racing in unopposed between the posts. Robinson added the conversion.
Almost immediately, Quins had a simple penalty, just outside the Wasps 22, and slightly to the left of the posts. Amazingly, Evans sent his kick wide.
Four minutes later, Wasps scored a second try - a superb effort started when Varndell gathered a kick deep inside their half. He moved the ball out to Christian Wade, who sent Elliot Daly streaking away down the right. He found Chris Bell on his inside, and the centre passed back outside to Wade, who raced over between the posts. The TMO was asked to check on a possible forward pass early in the move, but he ruled in Wasps’ favour. Robinson landed the simple conversion, and Wasps were 14-0 up, with under a quarter of an hour played.
An offence at a Quins lineout, on the Wasps 22, gave Evans another chance to get them on the board. His kick appeared to be going wide, but just drifted inside the left post, to make the score 14-3.
Wasps were then reduced to 14 men, when Chris Bell was shown a yellow card – apparently for an off-the-ball challenge. Quins took immediate advantage, when a thunderous charge by James Johnston took play deep into Wasps territory. The ball was moved out to Matt Hopper, who chipped towards the corner. Hugo Southwell appeared to have the ball covered, but failed to take it. Hopper gratefully gathered, and went over for a try, which Evans converted, to narrow the gap just four points.
After 25 minutes, Quins conceded a penalty on the half-way line. The long-range specialist, Elliot Daly, went for the posts, but his kick dropped a couple of metres short. Wasps then put together a promising attack, from a free-kick, 15 metres inside the Quins half. They had space out on the right, but the final pass failed to go to hand. Another good attack , which featured a powerful burst by James Cannon, took play to within a few metres of the line, before Quins won an important turnover, and cleared the danger.
Chris Bell returned from the sin bin, and was immediately involved in another threatening attack. After another quick tapped free kick, his powerful run took play to the Quins 22. Marco Wentzel followed up with a short charge, but Wasps were penalised at the breakdown, and another promising build-up came to nothing.
A minute before the break, Quins chose to send a penalty to the corner. They won the lineout, and piled bodies into a drive for the line. It was stopped just short, but they were awarded another penalty, and Evans was on target, to make the halftime score 14-13, rather less than Wasps deserved after winning the territorial battle, and looking the more threatening side.
Tom Lindsay replaced Rhys Thomas, at the start of the second half. Quins produced the first threat of the half, after Nick Evans gathered Hugo Southwell’s clearance and darted through a gap in the Wasps chasers. He found his way into the 22, and was almost clear, before the defence managed to check him, and he threw a wayward pass out to the right.
After Quins again threatened, from a poor clearance, Joe Simpson and Billy Vunipola combined well, in Wasps’ first menacing attack of the half. The ball was kept alive well, and moved out to the right, where Southwell joined the line. Christian Wade was outside him, but the defence had him covered, so he hung on to the ball and was forced into touch.
A defence-splitting run by Nick Robinson then almost created a try for Wade on the right, but the winger had to pause to take the deflected pass, and he was stopped just short.
A charged down Wasps kick almost let Quins in for a try, but Chris Bell did well to gather ball, in the shadow of the posts, and Quins offended at the breakdown, allowing Wasps to clear the danger.
After withstanding several minutes of Quins pressure, Wasps broke out of their half and were rewarded with a penalty, 30 metres out and to the left of the posts. Nick Robinson’s kick made the score 17-13, as the game entered the final quarter. Straight from the restart,quick passing sent Tom Varndell racing away down the left, taking play up to the Quins 22, before it was called back for a forward pass.
Thirteen minutes from time, Evans missed a penalty from 38 metres, after Wasps failed to roll away from the tackle.
New recruit Alex Rae came on to make his Wasps debut, when he replaced James Cannon, with ten minutes left. Within a minute, Evans had another penalty chance, from 30 metres out, and 15 metres in from touch. This time, he made no mistake, to narrow the gap to a single point, and set up a tense climax.
An excellent Wasps scrum, with all the front row replacements on, yielded a penalty, just inside the Quins half, but Elliot Daly’s kick fell well short and wide. Wasps then set up a good position, just outside the 22, but Billy Vunipola ran into one of his own players, as he picked at the back of a ruck.
With just over a minute left, Evans had another penalty, from just inside the Wasps half, but his kick went wide. Wasps sent the dropout downfield, Quins gathered, and tried to break away, but Wasps pressured them into a handling error, and the whistle went, on a memorable victory.
Wasps are back on home turf next Sunday, the 17th of February, when they face Gloucester Rugby, at Adams Park. Kick-off is earlier than usual, at 1pm.
London Wasps team
15. Hugo Southwell (c) 14. Christian Wade 13. Elliot Daly 12. Chris Bell 11. Tom Varndell 10. Nick Robinson 9. Joe Simpson 1. Zak Taulafo 2. T Rhys Thomas 3. Phil Swainston 4. James Cannon 5. Marco Wentzel 6. Ashley Johnson 7. Sam Jones 8. Billy Vunipola
Replacements 16. Tom Lindsay 17. Tim Payne 18. Will Taylor 19. Alex Rae 20. Matt Everard 21. Charlie Davies 22. Stephen Jones 23. Charlie Hayter
15. Ross Chisholm 14. Tom Williams 13. George Lowe 12. Matt Hopper 11. Ugo Monye
10. Nick Evans 9. Karl Dickson 1. Mark Lambert 2. Joe Gray 3. James Johnston 4. Charlie Matthews 5. George Robson 6. Tom Guest 7. Luke Wallace 8. Nick Easter (C)
Replacements 16. Rob Buchanan 17. Darryl Marfo 18. Will Collier 19. Sam Twomey 20. Maurie Fa’asavalu 21. Ollie Lindsay-Hague 22. Rory Clegg 23. Jordan Turner-Hall