Wasps sink spirited Newcastle as title challenge gathers speed

Wasps 33 Newcastle 16
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The Independent Online

With that ominous talent for making slow starts to a season hugely rewarding, Wasps climbed up to fourth in the Aviva Premiership with an ultimately emphatic victory.

Armed with the relentless drive of Wales No 8 Andy Powell and the intelligence and kicking prowess of former England fly-half Dave Walder, Wasps were guilty only of taking too long to kill off their visitors.

On a weekend that justified the growing belief in the tightest Premiership since the league began, Wasps plonked themselves right in the middle of the title-chase, leaving Newcastle glancing over their shoulders at rapidly improving Leeds.

As the opening quarter unfolded, neutrals had little difficulty ascertaining which side were aiming for the stars. With England centre Riki Flutey making his first start since suffering a calf injury in October, Wasps steamed into a 6-0 lead in as many minutes via two Walder penalties, and he should have kicked a third, electing instead for a quick tap and go that actually went nowhere.

Instead, Newcastle re-grouped and cut loose, earning points of their own with a Jimmy Gopperth penalty in the 17th minute. This encouraged even bolder, wider play from the visitors who then went and spoiled it all by going offside with little danger evident, Walder delivering the deserved punishment on 25 minutes.

A galloping break by full-back Richard Haughton put Wasps in a strong attacking position in enemy territory, but a succession of reset scrums followed by some dim lateral passing by the home side let Newcastle off the hook.

Zak Taulafo was less than impressed when a flag indicated he was in touch when 'scoring' down by the left-wing flag on 35 minutes, but the flag was correct.

However, the inevitable try duly arrived six minutes from the interval. Nic Berry whipped the ball to Walder who managed to offload to captain Ben Jacobs despite being tackled. Jacobs was hit from all sides, but the centre managed to barrel goalwards to score by the post, Walder converting.

Just when you thought the flow was heading one way, Newcastle scored a try from nothing. They had possession without seeming to make much headway, but when Redford Pennycook blasted through the defence, his offload released Gopperth to win a sprint for the line. The fly-half then converted his own try, creating an interval scoreline that barely reflected what had gone before.

Wasps continued to batter away at their guests after the break without exhibiting the guile to achieve a lead worthy of their efforts. One long-term siege ended with referee Chris White wearily raising his arm to award Newcastle a penalty on their own line as the home side grew impatient and thus illegal.

As the match entered the final quarter, Walder increased the lead with his fourth penalty, awarded for pulling a player back off the ball.

Yet within minutes, and with their first real attack of the half, Newcastle cut back the deficit as Gopperth arrowed home a fine kick. The sense of frustration in Wasps ranks was tangible, given their struggle to build a convincing lead. And when Serge Betsen hauled down a maul under White's nose minutes later, Gopperth boomed home the penalty with nerveless accuracy.

That was the moment – fold or fight back. Wasps did the latter, and it was the France back-row warhorse Betsen who actually grounded the ball at the end of a very well sustained rolling maul.

Walder's conversion, his sixth successful kick from seven attempts, sucked the resistance from Newcastle, whose determination under fire came so close to achieving an upset. A late penalty try, converted by Walder, completed the job.

Scorers: Wasps: Tries Jacobs, Betsen, penalty try; Conversions Walder 3; Penalties Walder 4. Newcastle: Try Gopperth; Conversion Gopperth; Penalties Gopperth 3.

Wasps R Haughton; T Varndell, B Jacobs (capt), R Flutey (S Kefu, 71), D Lemi; D Walder, N Berry; T Payne (C Beech, 67), T Lindsay, Z Taulafo (B Broster, 50), S Shaw, J Cannon (M van Gisbergen, 67), W Matthews (S Betsen, 41), A Powell, J Worsley.

Newcastle J Manning (J Fitzpatrick, 64); L Fielden, T Tu'ipulotu, L Eves (D Williams, 60), G Bobo; J Gopperth, M Young (J Spice, 60); G Shiels (M Ward, 71), M Thompson, K Brookes, J Hudson (F Levi, 71), T Swinson, W Welch, A Hogg, R Pennycook (M Wilson, 56).

Referee C White (England)