BY TOM SMITH
Wasps Under 18s produced six tries to beat Leicester Tigers Under 18s 34-20 in their final match of the Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy League at Aylesbury Rugby Club on Saturday afternoon.
Despite picking up four bonus-point wins from six matches, the youngsters fell just one point short of qualifying for Finals Day but can hold their heads high after an impressive campaign, which saw them score the most tries and pick up the most points in the Northern Conference – and also score the most points of all the 14 sides in the competition.
Wasps led 17-15 at the break after tries from Olly Hartley, Ollie Dawkins and Kofi Cripps while Jordan Tebbatt and Joe Plunkett crossed for the visitors.
But two Cripps tries to complete his hat-trick and one for fly-half Charlie Atkinson completed the bonus-point win before a late consolation for Tigers’ Josh Lugsden.
Clear blue skies and beaming sunshine provided an idyllic backdrop for Saturday afternoon rugby with the young Black and Golds searching for a bonus-point win and hoping results went their way to grab a place at Finals Day.
Wasps placed the first points of the afternoon on the board within the opening two minutes after a clean line-break and dancing feet from Hartley saw him skip past a number of Tigers defenders to touch down for Wasps’ first try.
As the two sides battled for possession within the opening exchanges, Wasps were penalised at the breakdown and the resulting penalty kick from Vernum saw Leicester successfully convert to open their scoring account.
Energised and undeterred, Wasps soon responded with several forward phases inside Tigers’ 22, helping to shift Tigers’ defence slowly infield before Ollie Monye snapped the ball back down the blindside, exposing a gap for winger Dawkins to slide over for his first try of the match.
Wasps’ formidable set-piece continued to unhinge the league leaders as a driving lineout on the five-metre line saw the pack drive forward before Cripps spotted a gap and peeled off to place the ball across the chalk for Wasps’ third score.
With the half-time whistle edging closer, the visitors took their turn to add pressure and a well-placed crossfield kick saw Tebbatt place the ball down in the right-hand corner before a driving lineout saw Plunkett touch down across the line to send the visitors into the break trailing 17-15.
After the interval, Wasps came out as energised and as determined as they had in the first, and were quickly rewarded for their efforts.
A scrum just in front of the halfway line found its way to Atkinson and a darting run through the defence placed Wasps inside Tigers’ 22. The ball was switched to Cripps who bulldozed his way over the line for his second of the afternoon, securing the bonus point in the process.
Atkinson was on hand again minutes later as a scrum just shy of the halfway line saw the ball shifted to Hartley, who produced a wonderful show-and-go down the left-hand side. He raced through the defence before offloading the ball to Atkinson who secured Wasps’ fifth try with the conversion to match.
Sensing opportunity to further extend their lead of their East Midlands rivals, Wasps continued to turn the screw and a number of carries from the forwards pushed Tigers back to their own five-metre line before a pick-and-go by Cripps. With the help of front-row duo Andy Petros and Josh Macco, Cripps barged his way over to secure his hat-trick.
Leicester responded in quick fashion shifting the ball from the base of the scrum out wide and some neat play set winger Lugsden free down the left flank to place the ball down in the corner.
Despite a fourth bonus-point win, the Black and Golds missed out by just a single point as just a point separated three sides in the Northern Conference – and three points between Wasps in fourth and Tigers in first.
1m | Hartley try 5-0
2m | Atkinson con 7-0
7m | Vernum pen 7-3
11m| Dawkins try 12-3
16m| Cripps try 17-3
27m | Tebbatt try 17-8
34m | Plunkett try 17-13
35m | Vernum con 17-15
38m | Cripps try 22-15
41m | Atkinson try 27-15
42m | Atkinson con 29-15
44m | Cripps try 34-15
51m | Lugsden try 34-20
Wasps U18s | 15 Olly Hartley, 14 Luke Bray (Dunn 43), 13 Toby Baldwin, 12 Rekeiti Ma’asi White (Mitchell 51), 11 Ollie Dawkins, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Ollie Monye (Hughes 53); 1 James Coombs (Beckett 56), 2 Dan Eckersley, 3 Max Morphey (Macco 41), 4 Alfie Bell (Nicholls 43), 5 Fyn Brown, 6 Jack English, 7 Kofi Cripps, 8 Greg Fisilau (Florestein 50)
Replacements | 16 Andy Petros, 17 Alfred Beckett, 18 Josh Macco, 19 Mason Nicholls, 20 Aaron Florestein, 21 Jack Hughes, 22 Evan Mitchell, 23 Tane Dunn