Cipriani struggles but Walder rescues Wasps

Harlequins 20 Wasps 21
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The Independent Online

Wasps' decision to play Danny Cipriani from the off added box-office feel to an already high-profile fixture but, in a rather inauspicious return, the England fly-half's awry place-kicking almost ended up costing his team victory. Cipriani, making his first start since the beginning of October after fully recovering from a fractured fibula, trudged off in the 56th minute having missed five kicks – four penalties and a conversion – to leave Quins in with a shot of nicking a win that should have been well out of their reach.

The score at that time was 14-6 to Wasps and it needed the coolness of Cipriani's replacement, Dave Walder, to see them home. Quins scored tries in the final 12 minutes through Danny Care and David Strettle but their London rivals deservedly held on for the four points in front of a record Premiership crowd that was treated to an exciting but error-strewn contest.

"I've just come back and my big focus is on Wasps," Cipriani said. "Hopefully, I can put a string of games together and play well. If the England call was to come, that would be amazing. I'd love to be back involved.

"I was probably just trying too hard but it's about getting back into the rhythm," Cipriani added. "I was disappointed with my goal-kicking, but the rest of my play I was pretty pleased with. It's good to be back on the pitch and to get a victory."

Action on and off the pitch made for a comedic start. Firstly, the bird that flew out of the crowd in the North Stand, with the intention of landing on the match ball on the centre circle, lost its bearings rather amusingly and careered into the spectators at the opposite end of the stadium.

It finally reappeared a few minutes later to do the honours, but then it was Strettle's turn, in the third minute, to suffer big-game nerves.

The Harlequins wing ambled back to take care of a punt forward by George Skivington, who had rampaged forward after breaking free from a ruck, but flopped on the ball and spilt it out into the in-goal area. Joe Simpson, who was at his impish best throughout, gleefully jumped on the loose ball for a try that Cipriani could not convert.

Nick Evans, the Quins fly-half, reduced the arrears with a 13th-minute penalty and then added another four minutes later but the New Zealander endured a poor first 40 minutes. He twice knocked on carelessly from good positions and missed a couple of straightforward penalties.

That allowed Wasps to go into the break 11-6 with Cipriani kicking penalties in the 23rd and 35th minutes. But in general he looked rusty. His long-range kicking left a lot to be desired too. Having already missed one from inside his own half on the half-hour mark, he was off target with a couple more at the start of the second period. Another, from the angle but still very gettable, was shanked wide in the 53rd minute and that was to be his last meaningful involvement before being replaced by David Walder, who immediately showed the accuracy Cipriani had been lacking, stroking over a tough penalty from the right touchline to put Wasps two scores ahead.

After a series of phases, Care burrowed over from close range for a 68th-minute try and Evans converted to bring Quins to within a point. Walder, though, inspired a rapier-like counter-attack which finished with Simon Shaw and Dan Ward-Smith setting up John Hart for the winning try. Strettle's try with seconds remaining, converted by Evans, came too late for Quins.

Harlequins: Tries Care, Strettle; Conversions Evans 2; Penalties Evans 2. Wasps: Tries Simpson, Hart; Conversion Walder; Penalties Cipriani 2, Walder.

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, N Mordt (G Lowe, 60), U Monye; N Evans, D Care; C Jones (A Croall, 65), T Fuga (C Brooker, 50), M Lambert (J Andress, 49), L Stevenson (J Percival, 49), G Robson, C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt, T Guest, 65).

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, D Waldouck, S Kefu (B Jacobs), D Lemi; D Cipriani (D Walder, 56), J Simpson (M Robinson, 52); T Payne (M Rice, 60), R Webber, B Broster (B Baker, 72), S Shaw, G Skivington, J Hart, D Ward-Smith, S Betsen (capt).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).