Was it too much to load the history of Wasps and the anxiety of supporters and sponsors on to the young shoulders of the likes of Elliot Daly and Joe Launchbury? Wet behind the ears but immensely promising, they are feeling their way out of the academy and England age-group ranks while fighting for people's jobs. When Daly led a long-shot chip and chase to earn a decisive score with 10 minutes remaining it eased Wasps' fears of relegation, which was just as well – the six-times league champions are also up for sale.
Daly would have been kicking for goal but he has a sore knee. Instead the fly-half Nick Robinson – whose previous success rate of 62 per cent had been one of Wasps' many woes – landed six penalties out of seven including one for a 15-13 lead after Daly's attack led to Darren Allinson carrying the ball over his own line. The same happened again soon after and Wasps were home.
Daly, a 19-year-old centre, and the 20-year-old flanker Launchbury, whose only retreat from the battles of the breakdown was to have his bloodied head bandaged, celebrated with their mates at the end, more in relief than exultation. Wasps have an eight-point lead over the bottom club, Newcastle, with four matches each to play before they meet here on the final day, 5 May. Not that Wasps' visits to Northampton, Harlequins and Bath and hosting of Gloucester offer any easy pickings, but Newcastle's run-in is no kinder.
Clearly it was timely for Wasps, on a club-record run of nine league defeats, to meet Irish, who have not won away in the Premiership since September and now have one win in eight matches in all competitions.
"Wasps showed the desperation you'd expect and I thought they were good for the win," said Toby Booth, the London Irish coach.
His Wasps counterpart, Dai Young, praised the crowd. "I come from Cardiff, a fickle place where if you lose a couple of games everyone wants to shoot you," he said. "Any time we were under pressure or tiring, the crowd got behind us."
For the most part, there was the battering, unimaginative fare seen in the previous evening's 9-9 draw between Newcastle and Harlequins. But both clubs in this derby – a London one or for the pride of the Thames Valley or the Chilterns, take your pick – could point to numerous injuries. And Wasps lost their England scrum-half, Joe Simpson, before half an hour had passed (to a dislocated left shoulder, according to his own tweet).
Missing their injured line-out leader, Marco Wentzel, Wasps had some problems matching their jumpers to the throws of the England hooker Rob Webber, and on a day of hail from slate-grey skies mixed with warm sunshine there was reason to expect something from Irish's runners.
It happened only once. Irish used Steven Shingler, often a centre, at fly-half with Dan Bowden, previously their fly-half, at centre. (Bowden is leaving at season's end, possibly for Leicester). Whether it was this line-up or the lack of quick ball, or the need for points to boost their Heineken Cup qualification chances, Irish hoofed the ball again and again.
Even Delon Armitage, who looked ready to run every ball, good or bad, succumbed to clumping it downfield, apart from one beauty down the touchline near the end of the first half, which concluded 6-6 after Shingler kicked penalties in the 18th and 29th minutes in reply to Robinson.
The blunt edges may have been explained by the Premiership's top points scorer, Tom Homer, being on the Irish bench and the top try scorer, Christian Wade, being among Wasps' crocks. Robinson made it 9-6 on 48 minutes and doubled the lead just before the hour when an Irish scrum wheeled and broke up. Ben Broster, Wasps' half-time replacement at tighthead, was doing his bit.
Irish's backline showed themselves in the 66th minute. From a line-out on the right, the ball flashed left with Jonathan Joseph's flat pass to Sailosi Tagicakibau sending the Samoan sailing past Hugo Southwell, with a hand-off, and Tom Prydie for a try converted by Shingler. The Irish were ahead for the first time.
But Robinson's final two penalties reversed that and Wasps, having re-signed England's James Haskell and Tom Palmer for next season, as well as the Wales hooker Rhys Thomas and former Sale fly-half Lee Thomas, improved their hopes of utilising them in the Premiership. As any stadium move under new owners would need registering by 31 March, it is likely they will be playing in High Wycombe.
London Wasps H Southwell (capt); T Prydie, E Daly, D Waldouck, J Wallace; N Robinson, J Simpson (N Berry, 26); T Payne (Z Taulafo, 75), R Webber, S McIntyre (B Broster, 40), J Cannon, R Birkett, J Launchbury (T du Plessis, 61-68), S Jones, J Poff.
London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo (T Homer, 75), J Joseph, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; S Shingler, R Samson (D Allinson, 52); M Lahiff (C Dermody, 65), J Buckland (B Blaney, 65), F Rautenbach (P Ion, 55), N Kennedy (capt), M Garvey (K Roche, 68), D Danaher, J Sinclair (D Sisi, 65), R Thorpe.
Referee M Fox (Leicestershire).
Pens: Robinson 6
Pens: Shingler 2Reuse content