In every respect, London Wasps enjoyed themselves in the sun at Twickenham yesterday. This was their best Aviva Premiership win of the season, it carried them clear of Exeter Chiefs into seventh place and possible tier-one European contention next season and it was a commercial success.
The revival of the St George’s Day fixture, in abeyance for two years but now rebranded as the “Stinger”, attracted more than 38,000. If the majority were Wasps supporters, then they revelled in their team scoring only their third try-bonus point of the season (the second was also against Gloucester, back in November) and taking a giant stride towards a play-off place for the new European Rugby Champions Cup.
They are now four points ahead of Exeter and seven ahead of Gloucester, with games against Newcastle Falcons and Northampton to come and the possibility of a final in the Amlin Challenge Cup. “It shows how far we have come off the field in the last 10 months,” David Young, the Wasps director of rugby, said. “Today was a real celebration, that we have come out of the dark days. There’s a lot of work to be done on the field but we are in a much better position.”
That said, Young considered his players had to win yesterday’s game at least three times, their loose play allowing Gloucester back into contention when the West Country club seemed down and out. Moreover Wasps finished with only 13 players on the field, yellow cards removing Ashley Johnson and Andrea Masi in the last five minutes.
But the significant period came when Wasps lost Willie Helu to the sin bin just after the interval. They conceded nothing in his absence, sustaining an eight-point lead and adding to it midway through the half when Johnson stretched over for the bonus-point try.
Johnson was part of a Wasps back row which was a thorn in Gloucester’s side. The visitors were full of running, a late reshuffle restoring Freddie Burns at fly half where he played to great effect. But Gloucester were turned over far too often, James Haskell exerting himself at the breakdown and forcing his way over for Wasps’s first and last tries.
In between Haskell and Johnson was Nathan Hughes, the Fijian from Auckland who has grown in stature this season. If Wasps wondered how they would replace Billy Vunipola after his switch last summer to Saracens, they are looking no further: Hughes is a powerhouse, and twice made breaks, one finished by Haskell.
Tom Varndell was back after a three-month absence with a torn bicep. Gloucester even gave him an interception try from 40 metres by way of a present, Elliot Daly scored a fine team try and if Wasps had not gifted two back (one a kick-through for Johnny May, the other an interception for Burns), the difference would have been far more marked.
London Wasps: A Masi (J Carlisle, 21-26; sin bin 77); W Helu (sin bin 42-52), E Daly, C Bell (captain; C Hayter, 75), T Varndell; A Goode (Carlisle, 72), J Simpson (C Davies, 75); M Mullan (S McIntyre, 65), C Festuccia (T Lindsay, 65), J Cooper-Woolley (P Swainston, 33), J Launchbury, K Myall (T Palmer, 68), A Johnson (sin bin 75), J Haskell, N Hughes (S Jones, 68)
Gloucester: R Cook (W Meakes, 75); C Sharples, B Twelvetrees (captain), M Tindall (S Reynolds, 61), J May; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 49); N Wood (D Murphy, 61), H Edmonds (D George, 75), S Knight (R Hardern, 53), E Stooke (R Moriarty, 75), J Hudson (L Lokotui, 53), S Kalamafoni, M Kvesic, B Morgan.
Referee: W Barnes (London).