Wasps defy injuries to force way past Bath in show of grit
After a weekend of deflating mismatches across the Gallagher Premiership, a proper contest was overdue, and this certainly delivered. Wasps, despite their pack being ripped apart by injuries in the first half, came from behind to produce a crucial win over their topfour rivals Bath.
Wasps lost both of their hookers in the first half, as well as Thomas Young and Lima Sopoaga, but the deeper they were forced to dig, the better they played.
Jack Willis, a tour de force once again at the breakdown, was named man of the match, while Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga were both razor sharp as a late penalty try won by the Wasps maul sealed victory for Lee Blackett’s side at the Rec, where Sara Cox made history by becoming the first female assistant referee in a Premiership fixture.
“Joe Launchbury has just spoken in the sheds about how that was one of the best wins of his Wasps career, and he has been here a lot longer than I have,” Blackett said. “It’s the character, the leadership, the adversity we had to go through. We spoke in the break about being adaptable and that was the most pleasing thing today, because everything possible was thrown at us.
“We saw what Bath’s scrum did to Northampton, but we were on top early on [before going uncontested], which was really pleasing.”
With no hookers left, the lineout throwing duties fell to replacement prop Simon McIntyre, who acquitted himself well in the chaos. The backup thrower in this scenario was meant to be Young, who was forced off himself with an injury after four minutes. No problem. Wasps rose above it. “Fair play to him [McIntyre], he has added a little bit to his contract I think,” joked Blackett.
Blackett might have been full of praise for how Wasps adapted, but Stuart Hooper, reflecting on Bath’s first defeat since the restart, felt his side could have handled the uncontested scrums better. “We didn’t react quick enough and we didn’t adjust, and they got the win,” said Bath’s director of rugby. “I thought we had moments where we showed some of the things we had done in the previous three games, but we didn’t consistently knit that together. We coughed up a few opportunities. Today was an opportunity for us, but it is not terminal.”
The start for Bath was far more promising. Ruaridh McConnochie was sharp off the bench in midweek against Northampton when Bath’s pressure on defence produced a try, and he repeated the trick here, speeding away to score after scooping up a loose ball when Malakai Fekitoa spilt a pass.
Two quick penalties against Wasps, both at the breakdown, helped Bath build their lead through Rhys Priestland’s boot to put Wasps in a 13-0 hole. A Jack Willis penalty gave them a foothold, the impressive flanker securing yet another breakdown turnover this season, for Sopoaga to make it 13-3.
Wasps then lost Sopoaga and Tommy Taylor with a nasty-looking ankle injury, but were unfazed, producing a scrum penalty against Bath’s vaunted pack which was sent to a corner, before a moment of magic from Robson. The England scrum-half candidate sold Priestland an excellent dummy, backpedalling, before swivelling towards the posts and putting his half-back partner Umaga away to haul Wasps back into the contest.
Wasps’ injury issues then became a full-blown disaster when replacement hooker Gabriel Oghre was forced off, as scrums went uncontested.
Were it not for another Jack Willis turnover then Wasps might have
Imposing: Wasps’ Jack Willis takes on Ben Spencer as his side grind out a victory, overseen by assistant referee Sara Cox (left)