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London Irish were undone by a combination of individual errors and a high penalty count that a talented London Wasps team capitalised on at every opportunity.
To the frustration of their coaches and supporters the Exiles created chances but didn’t take them, for example, midway through the second half London Irish were within five metres of the Wasps’ try line on two occasions attacking with ball in hand only to lose control of it a crucial moments and, as a result, came away with nothing to show for their efforts.
While the home team will point to a solid defence as the foundation of their win, they also showed a clinical approach to taking any chances that came their way. This was personified by outside centre Ben Jacobs who deservedly got “man of the match” for the way he constantly tested London Irish over the 80 minutes.
Conditions for the match were good – broken cloud with the odd ray of sunshine overhead, a firm pitch underfoot, cold and dry with a wind that didn’t trouble the kickers unduly.
The match started brightly with London Irish kicking off through Ryan Lamb who found himself with an opportunity to give his team an early lead in the second minute when Wasps were penalised for offside. The out half’s kicked sailed wide.
Wasps managed the re-start well and retained possession forcing Irish to defend, Referee Lawrence penalised the Exiles and Dave Walder sent the ball between the uprights from 50 metres to open the scoring. The ease with which the out half kicked the penalty was an ominous sign of what was to come.
An accurate kick by Lamb secured Irish an attacking field position inside the Wasps 22, the home team had to endure a sequence of three scrums in which it was clear Irish were on top, the New Zealand referee penalised the home front row and Lamb registered his team’s opening points with a straightforward kick from 15 metres.
As the opening quarter unfolded both team showed commendable initiative in playing with ball in hand but both defences held firm until the 21st minute when the Wasps centres Steve Kefu and Jacobs combined to find a gap in the Exiles’ line for the latter to touch down. Walder kicked the conversion to leave the score 10-3.
London Irish finally struck back in the 28th minute with a well-worked move off the back of a solid scrum. Chris Hala’Ufia picked up the ball and made the initial break down the blindside before passing to Paul Hodgson who raced down the left wing to score his team’s first try in the corner. Lamb’s conversion attempt missed.
Walder extended his team’s lead three minutes later with his second penalty after Irish were naively caught offside. With the lively Joe Simpson prompting the action from scrum half, the home team looked like extending their lead as the interval approached. However, another Lamb clearance kick secured a field position for his team in the Wasps 22. The Irish forwards attacked with real purpose and the home team’s loose head prop, Tim Payne was shown a yellow card for deliberately killing the ball. Lamb successfully kicked the resulting penalty to reduce the home team’s interval lead to 13-11.
London Irish made an enterprising start to the second half taking the game deep into the Wasps’ 22. The sustained attack quickly produced a reward when a deft chip over the defence by Lamb created enough confusion for the ball to fall lose momentarily. That was sufficient for Bowden to respond quickly and dive under the posts for Irish’s second try. Lamb added the extras to give his team the lead for the first time in the match.
With Payne still in the sin-bin, the Exiles were enjoying their best period of the match, retaining possession and moving the ball through phases, they maintained pressure on the home defence.
The Irish lineout, which had functioned well throughout the match, saw another clean take by Bob Casey who passed to Hodgson to set up another attack. Irish pressed deep on the left through Jonathan Joseph who was stopped just short of the try line. The Exiles recycled the ball to the right, Nick Kennedy drove for the line but was double tackled by Walder and Simpson. Wasps regained control of the ball and the threat was cleared.
Encouraged by their successful resistance the home team regained the initiative and another break by Jacobs through left midfield sparked a slick passing move between backs and forwards that resulted in Kefu touching down on the left. Walder kicked the conversion to give his team a five point lead.
The introduction of Alex Corbisiero, James Buckland and Chris Malone for Clarke Dermody, David Paice and Jamie Lennard respectively brought fresh impetus to the Exiles’s efforts but did not stop the adverse penalty count.
Walder missed with a penalty in the 68th minute but was successful with a conversion in the 74th minute after Tom Varndell had finished off with a try from another Jacobs originated move that capitalised on another London Irish turnover.
Trailing by 12 points and with five minutes remaining the Exiles took the game into the Wasps half but the defence held. In the 78th minute Richard Thorpe, a 75th minute replacement for Chris Hala’Ufia, took a quick tap penalty and drove through the defence, he was tackled and the ball was picked up by Paulica Ion who had the strength to drive over under the posts, Lamb added the extras to bring Irish into losing bonus point range.
Irish failed to control the ball from the restart resulting in a scrum which collapsed. The Exiles front row was penalised and Walder easily kicked the penalty from 15 metres in front of the posts to deny Irish the hard-earned bonus point with the last kick of the match.
Scorers: London Wasps: Tries: Jacobs (21), Kefu (65), Varndell (74)); Conversions: Walder 3. Penalty goals: Walder 4 (5, 31, 44, 79). London Irish: Tries: Hodgson (28), Bowden (43), Ion (78); Conversions: Lamb 2. Penalty goals: Lamb 2 (14, 37).
Scoring sequence (London Wasps first): 3-0, 3-3, 10-3, 10-8, 13-8, 13-11 (half-time) 13-18, 16-18, 23-18, 30-18, 30-25, 33-25.
London Wasps: 15. M Van Gisbergen, 14. R Haughton, 13. B Jacobs, 12. S Kefu, 11.T Varndell, 10. D Walder, 9. J Simpson, 1. T Payne (sin-bin: 37-47), 2. J Ward, 3. B Broster, 4. S Shaw, 5. J Cannon (rep: S Ruwers 37-47)(rep: M Veale, 62), 6. J Worsley, 7. T Rees (captain), 8. D Ward-Smith .
London Irish: 15. J Lennard (rep: C Malone, 73), 14. T Ojo, 13. E Seveali’i, 12. D Bowden, 11. J Joseph, 10. R Lamb, 9. P Hodgson, 1. C Dermody (captain)(rep: A Corbisiero, 73), 2. D Paice (rep: J Buckland, 73), 3. F Rautenbach (rep: P Ion, 55), 4. N Kennedy, 5. B Casey, 6. K Roche (rep: M Garvey, 55), 7. S Armitage, 8. C Hala’Ufia (rep: R Thorpe, 75).
Referee: Mr B Lawrence (NZRU)