Ninety minutes after the final whistle the Exhibition Hall at the Ricoh was still a buzz of activity. Children were taking part in a whole multitude of activities laid on by the excellent Wasps community team. Parents and adults were enjoying a Christmas ale or two and the lively covers band were belting out their own version of the Kings of Leon classic with a twist, “Wasps are on fire”.
The words were highly appropriate for this excellent pre-Christmas fixture as Wasps proved that they really are on fire, both on and off the pitch. A crowd of over 26,000, a season high, were treated to a thrilling match, a flowing exhibition of running rugby containing over 10 tries with the home side finishing with a flourish, scoring 3 tries in the final few minutes in a blaze of glory. The pyrotechnics continued after the match with a sparkling firework display before the post match festivities began inside the Arena. Wasps have certainly embraced their new surroundings in Coventry and, on this evidence, the locals have also taken their ‘new’ club to their hearts.
This is what rugby should be about and Wasps must be applauded for the way they have approached their move, yet still retaining their traditional values of heart, spirit, enterprise, togetherness and teamwork, not forgetting bloody hard work. No wonder that so many of their original supporters from their Wycombe and London days still make the journey to see them. If their team serve up this sort of fare on a regular basis, which they seem to be doing at the moment, then it is a trip well made.
After a poor run earlier in the season, Wasps have certainly got their mojo back and, in this ultimately convincing victory, they have leapfrogged their opponents Gloucester and climbed into second place in the Premiership league table.
The final score, showing a 25 points difference, arguably flattered Wasps somewhat as they scored two tries through Dan Robson and Christian Wade in the closing moments, capitalising on some poor Gloucester handling errors, to add gloss to the scoreline.
However, Gloucester more than played their part in a captivating match which ebbed and flowed for more than an hour before Wasps pulled away in the final quarter, like a champion thoroughbred racehorse might in the face of a worthy, but tiring opponent.
Gloucester led 17–15 at half time, outscoring the home side by three tries to two. Wasps had taken the lead following a virtuoso solo break and finish from the ever improving Willie Le Roux, who also laid on Wasps’ second try for Wade who cut in from his wing on the switch to force his way through several covering defenders for an excellent score, having been held up in similar circumstances only minutes earlier.
In between, Gloucester scored two tries of their own. They announced their intentions from the outset by throwing the ball around from deep in their own half and they played with much confidence and ambition. Prompted by their lively scrum half and captain, Willi Heinz and his fellow half back, the promising and maturing Billy Burns, they looked very dangerous whenever in possession. They have pace and power, and this attack minded approach has served them well all season, particularly on their travels. It is no coincidence that they should have found themselves in second place in the table coming into this match.
Their first try was a typical predatory finish from Heinz, spotting a gap around the fringes after a concerted Gloucester attack; the second a fine pick up and finish from Mark Atkinson after some slick handling out wide, where Charlie Sharples always looked sharp and alert and then full back Tom Marshall, making his first start of the season, used his strength to force his way over for an excellent third right on half time.
However, after the half time break it was all Wasps. They significantly upped their game and played with an intensity and flair that their opponents struggled to cope with at times. They played with their heads up and once again Danny Cipriani pulled the strings from fly half and he was ably assisted by Kyle Eastmond at inside centre, at last fit again and looking very sharp.
They scored four second half tries and were clinical when opportunities arose. A turnover in their own 22 led to a lightening breakout initiated by Eastman, which finished with Le Roux putting Thomas Young in the clear and the boss’s son showed exceptional speed to run in from inside his own half. Guy Thompson made the game safe with a determined finish out wide as he ran onto a looped pass by Le Roux and fought off two tacklers in the process of scoring. Word has it that he may be leaving Wasps for their Midland’s rivals Leicester at the end of the season and that would certainly be a loss to Wasps, despite the emerging talent of Jack Willis.
Gloucester pulled a try back with a close range finish from Freddie Clark, to jangle some nerves amongst the home supporters, but Robson eased them immediately as he pounced on a loose ball to score against his former club, following a dropped pass in the Gloucester midfield, as they tried to attack from deep.
Within moments the icing on Wasps’ Christmas cake was provided by a quite remarkable try from Wade, who collected the subsequent kick off in mid air and on the run, his momentum carrying him through the first would-be tacklers and then his electrifying pace took him clear, turning the Gloucester full back Marshall inside and out before gleefully diving over in the corner. The Ricoh was on it’s feet yet again to celebrate the Wasps wizard who continues to confound all and score scintillating tries. It is only a shame that it is extremely unlikely that he will ever be seen wearing the white shirt of England again, at least whilst Eddie Jones is at the helm. The same could also be said for Danny Cipriani, who is arguably controlling matches better than he has ever done and with a supreme level of confidence, further illustrated by some exceptional goal kicking from out wide. England’s potential loss is most certainly Wasps’ gain.
The final score was definitely a little harsh on the cherry and whites and they should not be too critical of themselves or disheartened, as clearly they are a very decent team. However, the world of professional rugby can be a brutal and unforgiving place at times, where small errors and missed tackles can be compounded by an opponent showing a really ruthless streak, as Wasps did on this occasion. Wasps were quite simply on fire and their heat was ultimately too much for Gloucester.