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The fine weather was matched by exciting on-pitch action that certainly kept the home supporters entertained as London Irish produced another display of positive, attacking rugby that saw them move into second position in the league table after the final whistle.
While the match statistics will show that the Exiles outscored their neighbours by two tries to one, that fact fails to reflect the difference in attacking intent and defensive resilience shown by the home team. The Wasps’ try was the result of a decision by referee Pearson to award a penalty try after Adam Thompstone was alleged to have prevented Dominic Waldouck from scoring. That was the only clear try-scoring opportunity that eluded an Irish defence that worked tirelessly throughout the 80 minutes.
Given the reputation Wasps and their coach Shaun Edwards have for the quality of their defence, unquestionably, the honours this afternoon went to London Irish and Defence Coach, Dave Ellis.
Irish got off to a perfect start with a try by Sailosi Tagicakibau in the third minute when he finished off a slick handling move off the back of a scrum. The Samoan international went on to be the scourge of the visitors for the rest of the match. Whether it was on the wing or in midfield his power and pace were a constant threat.
Wasps went ahead through two Danny Cipriani penalties in the sixth and 16th minutes before Ryan Lamb started a move by robbing Waldouck of the ball and then popping up to strike a beautifully flighted drop goal in the 18th minute.
The 23-year-old fly half, who had another confident game, extended Irish’s lead with two penalties in the 22nd and 26th minutes to leave the score 14-6 to Irish at half-time.
A feature of the first half was the outstanding performance of the Irish pack, from 1 to 8 they completed like dervishes and had the measure of their opponents all over the pitch both at the set pieces and breakdown. The fact that Irish won two strikes against the head speaks eloquently for the quality of their performance.
A major contributor to the effectiveness of the forwards was the performance of Paul Haodgson at scrum-half. Once again the description “midfield general” hardly does the 27-year-old justice as he produced another stunning display that must have impressed the watching England management.
Cipriani and Lamb exchanged penalties within five minutes of the re-start. The large home support was disappointed however, when Waldouck went unpunished for a blatant late charge on Peter Hewat. The Australian was to extract his revenge in the 55th minute with as good a long range drop goal that will be seen in the Premiership this season.
Wasps had reduced the Exiles’ lead to a point in the 46th minute as a result of the penalty try and Cipriani’s conversion that followed the Thompstone-Waldouck incident. Lamb added to Hewat’s drop goal with his fourth successful penalty in the 57th minute to leave the score at 23-16 going into the final quarter.
Wasps were under pressure from the relentless Irish defence and counter-attack and that anxiety began to creep into their play.
Tagicakibau made them pay in the 61st minute when he intercepted an indecisive pass from Ben Jacobs intended for Cipriani on the left wing and he showed Tom Varndell a clean pair of heels as he outstripped the Wasps’ defence to touch down in the left corner.
The try was a hammer blow for the visitors. By now the Irish replacements had been introduced and upped the pressure. Irish’s ex-Springbok pairing, Danie Coetzee and Faan Rautenbach, in the front row demolished their opposite numbers at scrum time with the result that Phil Vickery retired exhausted in the 75th minute after his first Premiership appearance of the season. The rest of the Wasps’ pack wilted in the summer-like heat as the home team attacked relentlessly until the final whistle.
With Chris Malone on the pitch at fly half and combining well with Hodgson, the Exiles dominated possession and territory until referee Pearson brought proceedings to a close.
Speaking afterwards Head Coach Toby Booth said that he was delighted with the result. “We set high standards and I’m pleased that there was a fantastic amount of effort.” Booth added, “The bench made a fantastic impact and took the game further away from them.”
Scorers. London Irish: Tries: Tagicakibau 2 (3, 61). Drop goals: Lamb (18), Hewat (55). Penalty goals: Lamb 4 (22, 26, 45, 57). London Wasps: Penalty Try (46); Conversion: Cipriani. Penalty goals: Cipriani 3 (6, 16, 42).
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 5-0, 5-3, 5-6, 8-6, 11-6, 14-6 (half-time) 14-9, 17-9, 17-16, 20-16, 23-16, 28-16.
London Irish: 15. P Hewat, 14. A Thompstone (sin-bin: 46-56 min), 13. E Seveali’i (rep: P Richards, 63), 12. S Mapusua, 11. S Tagicakibau, 10. R Lamb (rep: C Malone, 58), 9. P Hodgson (rep: A Lalanne, 78), 1. C Dermody (rep: D Murphy, 70), 2. D Paice (rep: D Coetzee, 58), 3. P Ion (rep: F Rautenbach, 58), 4. N Kennedy, 5. B Casey (captain)(rep: A Perry, 58), 6. D Danaher, 7. S Armitage, 8. C Hala’Ufia (rep: R Thorpe,63).
London Wasps: 15. L Mitchell (rep: M Odejobi, 58 min), 14. P Sackey, 13. B Jacobs, 12. D Waldouck, 11. T Varndell, 10. D Cipriani, 9. J Simpson, 1. T Payne (rep: C Beech, 66), 2. R Webber, 3. P Vickery (rep: T Lindsay, 75), 4. G Skivington, 5. R Birkett (sin-bin: 29-39)(rep: D Leo, 75), 6. J Worsley (rep: B Baker, 75), 7. S Betsen (captain)(rep: D Ward-Smith, 58), 8. J Hart.
Referee: D Pearson (RFU)