Until these exiled clubs move back nearer the capital – both are under relatively recent new ownership, and while plans for a relocation towards London are only ever whispered about, neither Wasps nor London Irish ever give the impression they are cock-a-hoop at renting their home stadiums in High Wycombe and Reading respectively – this match will be a meeting, county-wise at least, of Berks versus Bucks.
The visitors’ scrum-half Tomas O’Leary played the part of berk perfectly, being sent off for treading on the head of Wasps’ England flanker James Haskell early in the second half, but a dropped goal by Shane Geraghty six minutes before the end ensured London Irish won back-to-back away matches in the Premiership for the first time in more than three years.
O’Leary may face a long ban for the incident that his director of rugby Brian Smith said he hadn’t seen, but which the scrum-half had “put his hands up to” afterwards. Irish were ahead by 17-11 after 48 minutes of a messy match epitomised by the fight for possession after the tackle usually being lost by Wasps, whose forwards were standoffish and hesitant by comparison with to an Irish pack with a mean streak. Haskell, in a bright blue scrum cap, was lying over the ball and O’Leary, frustrated at that no doubt, made a gentle downward prod with his foot. Still the referee Tim Wigglesworth appeared not to have spotted a fairly blatant act, and he had awarded Irish a kickable penalty before calling for a video review that brought O’Leary a straight red card.
“It made the mountain a whole lot steeper,” said Smith, whose team had won once in 13 previous visits to Adams Park but were hugely heartened by last week’s win at the then league leaders, Saracens. “We want to be taken seriously, we want to be respected, and this result beats the Saracens one,” said Smith, who warned he would review instances of O’Leary’s opposite number Joe Simpson “tap-dancing” in rucks – an accusation dismissed as “silly” by Smith’s Wasps counterpart Dai Young, whohad other concerns. “We were beaten by a team that wanted it a bit more,” he said.
One possible scenario for European qualification at the end of this season – after which Wasps will be bolstered by quality signings in Wales lock Bradley Davies and Sale’s Rob Miller and James Gaskell – is a play-off between the seventh placed teams in England and France. That might involve Wasps or Irish but the muted crowd here appeared not overly enthused by the mid-table fare. They did though have three first-half tries to enjoy, plus the fraught finish.
Irish were 14 points ahead with a breeze behind them after Nic Rouse charged down Elliot Daly on the Wasps goalline and Ian Humphreys scored the opening try in the fifth minute, then the hooker David Paice scrambled over after 21 minutes after the Wasps defence cracked.
With two conversions and a penalty by James O’Connor to one penalty from Joe Carlisle – Andy Goode is nursing a knee injury – it needed a try on 23 minutes by James Short to keep the home team in range. Short latched on to Andrea Masi’s grubber kick as Wasps played with a penalty advantage and the wing got the video verdict.
Wasps blew a marvellous line-out position with a crooked throw and failed to profit, too, when Irish were pinged for incorrect binding at the resulting scrum. But Carlisle accumulated four penalty goals after the interval, to one by O’Connor, as Wasps’ one-man edge told. With the scores tied at 20-20, some efficient pick-and-goes left O’Leary’s stand-in Darren Allinson to feed Geraghty for the winning kick.
London Wasps: E Daly; W Helu, A Masi, C Bell (captain), J Short; J Carlisle, J Simpson (C Davies, 60); M Mullan (S McIntyre, 70), C Festuccia (T Lindsay, 67), J Cooper-Woolley (P Swainston, 70-80), T Palmer (E Lozada, 32-35, 41), K Myall (N Hughes, 76), A Johnson, J Haskell, S Jones (Hughes, 60-76).
London Irish: J O’Connor; A Lewington (T Ojo, 76), E Sheridan, S Geraghty (M Dorrian, 80), A Fenby; I Humphreys (D Allinson, 56), T O’Leary; M Parr (J Yapp, 58), D Paice (J Stevens, 76), J Hagan (L Halavatau, 76), G Skivington (captain), N Rouse (J Sinclair, 67), K Low, B Cowan, O Treviranus (G Ellis, 76).
Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).