The rugby calendar ticked back to a Premiership Rugby programme, the week before this years’ Six Nations starts. Saturday had brought a win for Bath against Champions Harlequins, hopefully the season is looking up for the famous West Country club. London Irish beat Exeter at home moving them up to 6th in the table and Gloucester had a good away win at Kingston Park, with a wonder try from Louis Rees Zammit included. The Scottish and Welsh coaches must watch through their fingers in round that sees their picks still playing in the competitive league and praying they all make it through unscathed.
Eddie Jones final squad of 37 includes Alfie Barbeary of Wasps, a special talent, I really hope he gets a chance in the white shirt. Saracens were missing Max Malins, Elliot Daly, Nick Isekwie, Jamie George and of course Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell had been included but injury has counted him out of the tournament. Wasps have suffered a nightmarish injury tally, but the talismanic Joe Launchbury made a welcome return for this match, after being out for 9 months.
I had a great seat for the game in Block E in the West Stand, on the halfway line I was sat amongst Wasps season ticket holders, a knowledgeable and friendly bunch, I felt very welcome. I also sat with photographer extraordinaire Daniel Davis during the second half, we seem to be quite like minded rugby wise!
Saracens were back to the co-captains thing again, not my favourite thing. A free kick was turned into a penalty from a scrum at one point as there was too much chat from Saracens, Mak Vunipola was one of the aforementioned captains, so I’m not sure who said what? Happily for Saracens Jimmy Gopperth unusually missed that one.
He didn’t miss his first opportunity after just 3 minutes, he also converted Sam Spink’s try after 5 minutes, a really well worked effort. He’d picked up a loose ball and passed to Paolo Odogwu who put in a lovely offload to Hooker Tom Cruse who found Spink again to run in and score. That put Wasps ahead by 10, a great start for the home team.
Alex Lozowski on kicking from the Tee duties, but playing at 13 again closed the gap after Alex Goode had put Saracens deep into Wasps territory after they were awarded a penalty after a line out. Gabriel Oghre was penalised for not rolling away and the kick from Lozoski was good. (The back chat penalty had been missed by Gopperth just before).
Gopperth who at 38 has been at Wasps since 2015 is pure class, he made no such mistake with his next penalty, a kick from 40 metres out it sailed through the posts to extend the lead back to 10. It was announced this week that Gopperth will be at Leicester Tigers next season, and absolute coup for Steve Borthwick who seems to be building something special at Wasps’ local rivals. He’ll be sorely missed.
It looked like Saracens had a try on the board after a sublime kick through from Goode, but Alex Lewington didn’t manage to touch the ball down, Goode really does have ‘magic eyes’ at times, his reading of the game is excellent. Sadly he made a couple of unforced errors in this game, which is uncharacteristic of him.
Lewington did get over the line a few minutes later after Billy Vunipola was hauled down short of the line, he popped the ball up to the winger who crossed to score. the conversion was missed. I must pinch a line from Bobby Bridge of Coventry Live as he described Tim Swinson’s joy at a knock on – Great play, but he ruins it with one of those awful Rick Flair ‘woos; – that did make me laugh. All the same Saracens won a penalty from the resulting scrum, then another from the maul being pulled down.
Tom Woolstencroft carried on with the drive after Wasps had conceded a third penalty and touched down. The conversion missed, the teams went in with 13 apiece at half time.
Understandably Launchbury’s match was over at half-time, 9 months is a long time to be away from the game. Poor Rodrigo Martinez, the Wasps prop was taken from the field on a stretcher just as Wasps finished warming up. Hopefully his injury isn’t as bad as the stretcher suggested.
Goode made one of those errors early in the second half, failing to take the ball with him from a pass, the scrum resulted in a penalty for Wasps, as did the ensuing line out. A very kickable penalty clipped the posts but added another 3 for Gopperth and Wasps.
Saracens looked to have weathered a concerted Wasps attack, but Lewington had tackled Shields, literally by his head, and that, of course is not allowed. Gopperth was successful with his kick and Wasps had moved up to 19 after 54 minutes. Saracens hadn’t spent much time with the ball in their hands at the start of he first half, the second was going the same way.
Andy Christie, on a a replacement, went over the line for Saracens after a very unusual error by Gopperth who’d kicked the ball straight into touch after Gaskell had tapped the ball back into the 22. Saracens were awarded a penalty from the line out and Christie, who’s caught the eye of Scotland coach Gregor Townsend profited. However the try was rightly disallowed as Shields had been cleared away to leave the way clear for Christie. No Try!
Saracens managed to lose two of their own line outs in succession and promptly found themselves defending their own line having been in the Wasps 22, in most rugby games it’s hard to win a match without getting the set pieces right, at this level it’s vital. Wasps were held out with some solid Saracens defence.
Saracens Centre Nick Tompkins, off on Wales duty after this match, made a great break storming down the pitch, again Saracens got close to the line, but were deemed to have been holding the ball, a relieving penalty for Wasps. A later 50:22 from Gopperth gave Wasps a great attacking platform that proved to be a successful one. Elliot Stooke being the player to capitalise. The conversion gave Wasps a lead of 13 and it looked like Saracens would go home empty handed.
With a minute on the clock Saracens had a line out 10 metres from the Wasps line, after a sliced kick from Shields, to the delight of the Saracens fans in the crowd Tompkins scored, Lozowski added the extras and Saracens packed a losing bonus point into their kit bag. Wasps were deserved winners. Saracens remain in second place on 44 points and Wasps are eighth with 32. It was good not to have any major talking points about the officials, they did a good job overall I thought. Although former scrum half Mr Dickson did seem to allow Wasps scrum half Dan Robson to chat away to him.
The other match today saw Leicester Tigers, ahead at half time by 13 lost away to Sale Sharks by 35 – 26. They still top the table with 51. We now go into the 6 Nations with 5 weeks of Premiership Rugby fixtures, it’s going to be interesting to see who benefits/suffers from missing players.
A last minute shout out to the Wasps fan sitting behind me. I think he has the loudest shout of support I’ve ever heard! Well played Sir!