London Wasps 13 Saracens 22 match report: Wasps stung by Saracens' second-half comeback
Sunday 31 March 2013
These are the games that win championships. The days when opponents stick to you like glue, when your gameplan is compromised, when your kicker is off-colour but still the resolve is there to come through victorious.
With three games of the regular season left Saracens are 11 points clear of Harlequins in third and virtually guaranteed a home play-off in the semi-finals. Maybe they felt the hot breath of Leicester on their necks, but during the second half at Adams Park they took a grip on the game that Wasps could not shake.
It showed in every facet of play. In the first quarter Wasps started like a train, scoring 13 points in as many minutes, but thereafter their set-piece fell away and they conceded possession with alarming regularity. After next Friday's European date with Leinster they face games against Leicester, Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks in which to secure, at best, a top-six place and Heineken Cup qualification next season.
"We have got better at recovering from setbacks," Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, said. "We didn't panic, we hung in there and got points on the board.
"We were also able to take four or five of our main players out of the firing line and our bench made a huge difference."
That bench included Jacques Burger, Namibia's captain who had not played an elite game since the 2011 World Cup while recovering from a complex knee operation. By the time he replaced Jackson Wray Saracens had control of the match, if not the scoreboard, and the benefits of a trip to relax in Verbier during the week were beginning to show.
Had Wasps been able to replicate their first-quarter heroics after the interval, when they had similar territorial dominance, they might have been able to have at least nicked a losing bonus point. But not for nothing is the Saracens defence labelled the meanest in the Premiership, and the Wasps statisticians reckoned their players made 16 handling errors, a turnover rate which the best sides will always punish.
Elliot Daly, along with Joe Launchbury the star of the Wasps show, kicked two long penalties and Christian Wade snatched his 10th Premiership try of the season with a 60-metre interception of Charlie Hodgson's pass. But the seeds of Wasps' destruction came when they turned their backs on a Saracens penalty, expecting their opponents to wait while Neil de Kock received treatment; instead Alex Goode tapped the ball and sent Chris Wyles burrowing over for a try, the second time this season Wasps have been caught napping this way.
Having missed two kicks at goal (he missed another in the second half), Owen Farrell added a penalty before the interval and only a last-gasp steal by Launchbury stopped Mako Vunipola scoring when he was over the Wasps line. Saracens shrugged off the yellow card awarded to Mouritz Botha and finally found ways through the stubborn Wasps defence.
First Duncan Taylor broke clear, paving the way for another Farrell penalty, and though Saracens found instructive ways of spurning try-scoring chances, they edged ahead through Chris Ashton. The England wing has had his critics this season but here he worked hard in defence and, at the second attempt, touched down in the corner from Goode's grub-kick.
Farrell added two close-range penalties, the first against Zak Taulafo, whose offside play saw him occupy the sin-bin for the last 10 minutes, the second when the Wasps scrum collapsed on their own line.
It leaves the leaders well placed for next Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham, before they strive to cement their top-two Premiership place in the run-in against Worcester Warriors, Gloucester and Bath.
London Wasps E Daly; C Wade, A Masi (H Southwell, 75), C Bell, T Varndell; Stephen Jones (N Robinson, 56), J Simpson; Z Taulafo, T Lindsay (R Thomas, 52), P Swainston (W Taylor, 61), J Launchbury, M Wentzel (capt; Palmer, 56), A Johnson, B Vunipola (T Payne, 73), Sam Jones (J Poff, 64).
Saracens A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins (D Taylor, 53), O Farrell, C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 52); M Vunipola (R Gill, 67), J Smit (J George, 52), P du Plessis (C Nieto, 61), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 64), J Wray (J Burger, 61), E Joubert, W Fraser.
Referee M Fox (Leicestershire).
Pens: Daly 2
Tries: Wyles, Ashton
Pens: Farrell 4
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