“Wasps survive late scare and secure semi final slot” – Wasps 36 Northampton 29 – Match Report

Wasps scored four tries with pace, skill and swagger. They also conceded four tries, taking their eye off the ball, when comfortably in front.  This has been their achilles heel all season, allowing their opponents back into matches that they should really have won comfortably.

Fortunately for them, on this occasion, in front of an excellent crowd of in excess of 23,000 at the Ricoh Arena for this Midlands derby, they just about made it across the line to secure an ultimately deserved victory.

Wasps have really put their supporters, their coaching staff and indeed themselves through the mill on many occasions this season. The manner in which they have clutched defeat from the jaws of victory on several occasions has been devastating, particularly the last minute agonising defeats at Harlequins in the European Cup, as well as more recently at Leicester and Sale in the Aviva Premiership. This inability to close matches out has proved costly and has really shown their fragility.

As a result Wasps never know when they have won and their opponents never know when they have lost.  This was all too evident in this entertaining encounter with their local neighbours from Northampton, who came into this match buoyed buy their recent victory at Leicester, coming as it did against all expectations. They had little to lose and as a result played with a certain carefree abandon at times, especially when they found themselves behind and this approach so nearly came to fruition.

Yet, Northampton should never really have come close to winning this match. In the opening twenty minutes, Wasps scored two delicious tries,  made by the vision and skill of the excellent Willie Le Roux and finished off with aplomb by the electric Christian Wade and his fellow winger Elliot Daly. Furthermore they butchered a couple of other excellent try-scoring opportunities and they should have really been out of sight.

But they allowed Northampton back in. A length of the field move and a couple of missed tackles later and Saints’ Teimana Harrison was over and, soon after, huge lock Api Ratuniyarawa barged his way over the line from close range. 21-17 at half time to the hosts.

The second half followed a similar pattern, Le Roux fed Wade for another glorious try, Juan De Jong showed pace and determination to dive over in the same corner to secure the bonus point and surely Wasps were out of sight with a 16 point lead?

Yet Wasps supporters know differently and it sometimes seems as though the players do too. Maybe they become nervous about winning at times, perhaps a certain relaxation creeps in when they are comfortably ahead or it could simply be a case of losing concentration and focus, but within minutes the game had a vastly new complexion.

Following the usual raft of substations, allied to some open attacking ‘nothing to lose’ style play from the Saints, who really threw caution to the wind, resulting in two quick tries for Alex Mitchell and Ahsee Tuala, it really was game on.

Surely not again for the men in black ? Smiley crowd faces suddenly turned to ones of angst, anxiety and dread. A Jimmy Gopperth penalty eased the nerves and a try for Josh Bassett surely sealed victory? However, in one of the more contentious high tackle decisions reviewed by the TMO, James Haskell was penalised, the try chalked off and, within moments, the Saints were suddenly camped on the Wasps line, in the dying seconds, knowing that a try and conversion would secure a draw.

Fortunately for Wasps it was not to be, they forced a turnover and the relief-fuelled celebrations could begin.  Fond farewells were given to departing Wasps heroes Guy Thompson, Danny Cipriani and James Haskell, which followed the half time tribute to the retiring Sam Jones, yet the season is far from over.

The season’s missions are still to be completed and, in securing a semi final position, the Wasps dream is still alive. A semi final awaits at either Exeter or Saracens and, for all the autographs, selfies and well wishers, the players know that there is still hard work to be done. If they afford either of these two sides the space that they did to Northampton, or fall off tackles or lose focus and intensity, which they also seem to do with increasing regularity, then their season will most certainly be over and they will not be lining up at Twickenham in the Premiership Final.

However, a far more dynamic and determined defensive effort, combined with even greater ruthlessness in attack, then they have an outside chance of progressing. It will take some doing based on recent performances but the team seem united, despite supposed ongoing off field uncertainties and it is very clear that the likes of Thompson, Cipriani  and Haskell want to finish their Wasps careers on a high. They still have a chance to make history and through slotted fingers and with sweaty palms, the Wasps faithful will soon find out.

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