Gutsy Wasps down Saracens
September 3, 2011
Defending champions lose season opener%]
A resurgent London Wasps kicked off their Aviva Premiership campaign with a 20-15 victory over defending champions Saracens in their clash at Twickenham.
Tries from wingers Christian Wade and Tom Varndell and the boot of fly-half Nicky Robinson ensured a dream start for new director of rugby Dai Young who took charge of the side in the summer. The boot of fly-half Owen Farrell kept Saracens in touch during the first half and replacement Charlie Hodgson added two further penalties after the break but despite boasting a dominant scrum they were unable to contain a passionate Wasps side that delighted in handing their rivals a first Premiership defeat since Mark McCall took the reins at Vicarage Road in January.
Saracens dominated the early exchanges and their early endeavour drew a penalty against Wasps prop Tim Payne with Farrell slotting the resulting kicks to give the 'hosts' the lead. And the Sarries playmaker was in the thick of the action again moments later with a great tackle on scrum-half Charlie Davies that had Wasps on the back foot. Unable to re-group effectively, Wasps conceded another penalty in the shadow of their own posts that Farrell landed to double Saracens' lead.
Wasps responded by driving deep into Saracens territory where a binding infringement against Saracens' Rhys Gill allowed Robinson to put his side on the board. And it would soon get better for Wasps with the opening try of the game. The forwards earned some hard yards up the middle before some superb hands from centres Riki Flutey and Chris Bell put Wade into a yard of space but that was all he needed before speeding away to the line.
Robinson notched the simple conversion and there was soon more cause for concern for Sarries with a mis-firing lineout inside their own 22 handing Wasps an attacking scrum. But a timely shove from Sarries dented Wasps' hopes of wreaking further havoc.
The forwards also led the way when an error from Wade, who sent a clearing kick out on the full, gifted Saracens an attacking lineout on the Wasps' 22. Saracens peppered the Wasps defence but they failed to find an opening with a thumping challenge from Bell bringing the move to shuddering halt. Wasps' forwards were keen to show they could play too with a break from prop Ben Broster exploiting some space but could only slice his attempted chip ahead into touch.
Wasps winger Tom Varndell evades Saracens' Charlie Hodgson during their clash at Twickenham © Getty Images
Saracens looked to raise the tempo as the half drew to a close with a good tackle from Flutey required to shackle speedster David Strettle but Wasps' failure to roll away from the breakdown was soon penalised with Farrell's third penalty. However, Wasps had the final say in the half with Robinson kicking his second penalty just before the break.
A penalty against Wasps winger Tom Varndell at the start of the second half offered Farrell a chance to close the gap but on this occasion the combination of distance and a difficult angle proved too much for the Sarries No.10.
And there was soon further woe for Saracens with a hack through from Wasps blindside Joe Launchbury putting fullback Alex Goode under pressure in the shadow of his own posts. Goode had just enough time to lay his hands on the ball before Launchbury pounced and threw his rival in-goal much to the delight of his team-mates. But Wasps' celebrations were short-lived with another big scrum from Saracens averting the danger.
Farrell made way for new signing Charlie Hodgson ten minutes into the half and he was immediately involved as Sarries closed in on the line. With their rivals' defence stretched, hooker Schalk Brits put Goode away but his pass inside to No.8 Ernst Joubert failed to go to hand and with it went a near-certain try. An increasingly confident Wasps side immediately looked to counter but it was Saracens who would trouble the scoreboard next with Hodgson nailing a penalty to bring his side to within a point after Wasps replacement Billy Vunipola was penalised for going off his feet.
A crunching double hit on Vunipola by flanker Justin Melck and replacement prop Deon Carstens added further fuel to Saracens' fire and their dominant scrum soon brought further reward with Hodgson's second penalty giving them a narrow two-point lead.
It could have been more had Strettle managed to beat the last man after burning through the Wasps defence but instead the game would swing the other way. Wasps flanker Jonathan Poff earned the turnover in midfield before Payne put Varndell away and the winger had enough power and pace to shrug off the cover tackles of Hodgson and Goode on his way to the line. Robinson's conversion gave Wasps a five-point lead with a little over ten minutes remaining.
But Wasps' scrum woes returned to hand Saracens a great attacking platform inside the 22 and Hodgson wasted no time in pointing to the posts when the inevitable penalty came - but his kick was wayward.
The game took a frenetic turn as it entered the final five minutes with both sides creating openings in broken play with Robinson forced into some desperate work inside his own 22 to deny an on-rushing Joubert. Another penalty allowed Saracens to turn the screw as the clock ran down only for them to lose the ball at the breakdown and their efforts to reclaim possession only drew the wrath of referee JP Doyle.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament