Wasps 10 Newcastle 14
Wasps will play in the Aviva Premiership next season, and that is all those associated with Wasps will care about. They made it over the line and it really didn’t matter how. At the end of this nervy contest, a sense of relief engulfed Adams Park, Wasps had survived the greatest test of all and they will live to fight another day.
And fight they did today. As Marco Wentzel, their warrior of a captain who returned from injury today to play just eight weeks after a major shoulder reconstruction, said after the match “we lost the battle but won the war”, and that summed it up perfectly.
It was indeed a bitter sweet day. Wasps were cautious and tetchy, preferring to play the territorial kicking game rather than unleash their flying wingers. This wasn’t the day to throw caution to the wind, this was a day for pragmatism and accordingly a conservative approach fuelled almost everything they did. Except for Richard Haughton. Haughton is an enigmatic character, he has hair like Hendrix, he is tall but has a spindly frame and you often wonder how he can survive the tough environment of Premiership rugby. Yet today he strode the turf like a king, his unique upright running style is something of beauty and the way he glided across the surface was quite magnificent. He produced several defence splitting runs in the first half, the last of which led to Christian Wade sprinting over in the right corner for a quite breathtaking score and Adams Park erupted with joy.
Wade’s exuberant dive over the try line encapsulated the emotion of the occasion, the tension was lifted and Wasps most precocious young talent had delivered.
Wade is indeed a star in the making and he, along with six other Wasps players under the age of 21, including Elliot Daly, Joe Launchbury, Sam Jones, Billy Vunipola and Tom Lindsay once again enhanced their growing reputations. They will learn from this whole experience and their careers will benefit enormously as a result. They started the season as boys, they have finished it as men.
Wade’s score was converted superbly by Nick Robinson from the touchline and, allied to an earlier penalty from a similar position, Wasps left the field at half time 10 points to the good. Game over. The chances of Newcastle scoring 34 points in the second half and scoring 4 tries seemed remote in the extreme. Adams Park breathed a huge sigh of relief.
To Newcastle’s credit they came out fighting in the second half, they dominated territory, monopolised possession and through Fitzpatrick and Stringer they did score two late tries. Whilst this was ultimately enough to win the match, they needed more. The damage had been done in the first half and they were left with far too big a mountain to climb.
Wasps will be disappointed to have lost the match, yet they retreated into their shell in the second half, showed very little in the way of an attacking force and were made to pay. And that’s what top flight rugby is all about, the successful teams seize the initiative and play on the front foot and are rewarded accordingly. The glorious Wasps teams of yesteryear will testify to that.
So as the curtain comes down on a dramatic season for Wasps, the future looks a little healthier. In his post match Q+A session to the gathered throng in the marquee, where former Wasps legends were rubbing shoulders with the loyal Wasps supporters, Chief Executive Mark Rigby, formerly Wasps first team captain, advised that heads of agreement had been reached with a new consortium headed by Ken Moss, formerly a Wasps player, and the club’s future would be secured.
“Once a Wasp, Always a Wasp” resonates around this proud club and yet again the club is indebted to those that have worn the famous shirt. And with James Haskell and Tom Palmer returning to the fold next season, there is much to look forward to.
So, a day of potentially high drama ended in something of a whimper. Much had been written in advance of the perils and dangers facing Wasps, former players had questioned the quality and determination of the current squad and management, but the team came through unscathed, they were never really in danger and ultimately they did enough to survive…..just!
6 May 2012