The London derby between Harlequins and Wasps was always going to prove a close run thing.
Only one point separated these two teams in the Aviva Premiership and ironically one point was all that parted these sides in their last encounter on the opening weekend of the season at Twickenham, where Quins triumphed 16-15. Wasps were out for revenge.
Initially it didn’t look promising, with Andy Goode being pulled up in his fitness test, but his replacement Joe Carlisle, packed a real punch!Â His confidence and ability to use the wind claimed to be advantageous and when a penalty was awarded early doors, he had no problem converting.Â
However generally, the strong wind played havoc with any kicking game – proven when a box kick from Karl Dickson headed straight into touch – but both sides had been battling against this all week in training, so it was clear early on that straight trucking was on the cards.
Even though Evans came back to convert the only penalty of the game for Quins, it seemed to be downhill for them from thereon.Â Wasps looked dangerous on the attack with superb offloads and the powerful display from their back-line showcased great execution of play.Â
Their tempo was significantly higher than that of Quins, who seemed somewhat passive and lethargic in their set play.
Wasps ability to take the ball on at pace from depth enabled them to gain solid ground in the Quins 22 and this is where they spent most of the first-half, camped out metres from the try line.Â
Wasps marked their territory, but their hard work was to no avail when they were penalised several times at the breakdown. Â If only the ball had been passed out wide to the backs on several occasions, the 2/3 man overlap would have paid off and been reflected in the score.
Consistency was always going to be key in this game but the scrum proved problematic; as did the ability for either side to keep hold of the ball. Â Â A lot of loose play and scrappy passes saw several high balls and passes being missed across the pitch.Â
The boot of Nick Evans played into the hands of the Wasps back line, enabling them to play the running rugby that they love, with a superb break down the wing by James Short.Â Â
Wasps versatility was also reflected by the forwards pack.Â Their ability to maul slowly broke the Quins defensive barrier and their hard work paid off after 28 minutes when a penalty try was awarded.Â Â Strong, solid power and driving the maul, as they do so well, enabled Wasps to take the lead.Â
Their pack proved dominant, especially with the majority of possession in the first half! Â Quins failed on the attack with poor handling errors proving disastrous.Â Â
No-one said it would be a clinical performance but they couldn’t even get the basics right.Â Â No surprise then, when one supporter shouted: ‘Wake up Quins!’.
Strong pod work from the London Wasps was such a crucial part of this physical game, with the skills of the forwards to pick and drive proving a significant factor, in addition to their commitment at the breakdown.Â But their lead wasn’t a comfortable one. Â Â
A massive hit by Maurie Fa’asavalu onÂ Andrea Masi – felt and heard by the crowd – was somewhat of a game changer.Â The Harlequins upped their intensity and you felt they were closing the gap on Wasps – or maybe not!Â Â A pass to Jordan Turner-Hall went straight into touch and nowhere near his hands. Â Â
This was really frustrating to watch. Â It felt like Quins hadn’t left the runway; Was there any danger of them even taking off today?Â
I do, however, have to commend Karl Dickson. Â He put the ‘r’ in resilient for me today; Playing some fantastic quick balls which resulted in Quins fighting for dominance in the Wasps 22.Â But the constant pressure from the Wasps defence saw a handful of knock-ons and it felt like Quins were back to square one… again!
With six minutes to go, a final push for Quins; It was now or never.Â Â Â Sensing the crowd behind them, the momentum and sense of urgency to win this game eventually kicked in. Â Determination to succeed saw the Harlequins driving forward on the attack.Â Wasps lost their sting for all of a couple of minutes and catching them off guard enabled Sam Smith to score in the corner.Â Â Or did he score?Â
The decision could’ve gone either way.Â I personally thought the ball was millimetres short of the line but the TMO thought differently and the try was awarded, 11-10 with two minutes to go until full-time.Â
And there it was again, that one-point difference looming over the Stoop as the game drew to a close.
This was a bitter-sweet ending for the London Wasps. They remained consistent, won nearly all of the collisions and seemed worthy of the win.Â But they failed to grasp full control in the first-half and extend their lead as a cushion. Â It proved mightily costly, and even Connor O’Shea told me afterwards:Â
“I feel for Wasps because they deserved to win.”
But the ability of the Quins pack not to feel sorry for themselves, to stay in the game and to come up with a winning score, that in itself tells you a lot about the characters within that group. They keep on pushing boundaries.
I would say that Harlequins got the opportunity to steal the win and they did so by the skin of their teeth. Wasps were outstanding across the pitch but they fell at the final hurdle. Emphasis will be on the positives of this game going into next week, with discipline and composure in defence on the agenda as they prepare for London Irish heading to Adams Park.Â Â
Final Score 11-10
By Riannon Chandler Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at her blog Â rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.comÂ and you can see her round up of the weekend’s Aviva Premeirship action via this link: Saracens come unstuck and Worcester nearly break their duck.