Wasps vs Northampton match report: 'Now keep that standard up,' Dai Young tells Wasps

Wasps 20 Northampton 16

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With a bloody mindedness rarely see in these parts since the trophy-winning heyday of Lawrence Dallaglio and Co a decade ago, Wasps trumped the moral victory of being edged out by Saracens at Twickenham nine days ago with a shock defeat of the champions Northampton in High Wycombe.

“In these two weeks we’ve played the best two teams in the country and almost won them both,” said Dai Young, the Wasps director of rugby, barely able to believe his team had ended a run of 10 losses to the Saints going back to 2009. “That’s the standard we need every week, not one week in six, if we want to make any ripples in the Premiership.”

The last act of a scatty match was Ashley Johnson’s smother tackle on Northampton’s England centre Luther Burrell but the way had been paved by thumping collisions all over the pitch led by James Haskell, Chris Bell, Carlo Festuccia… pretty much any Wasp you care to name, save perhaps for the flyer on the wing Tom Varndell, who did his damage in a different way when he scored the second of Wasps’ two tries in a match-turning three minutes midway through the second half.

Even little Joe Simpson did a number on Samu Manoa when Northampton were within sniffing distance of the home goal-line in the second half. David chop-tackling Goliath? Yes, near enough.

Johnson, a South African whose lavish hairdo could be the basis of a shaggy dog story, had spent the last 10 minutes of the first half in the sin bin. “A cheap shot,” was how Northampton’s director of rugby Jim Mallinder described Johnson removing Alex Corbisiero from a line-out, preventing the visitors’ England loosehead prop from supporting his jumper, Courtney Lawes, who was lucky not to be hurt as he landed.

Corbisiero’s open-handed clout of retaliation earned him a yellow card too but in another sense he enjoyed himself hugely. Four penalties were awarded to Northampton’s scrum going forwards at the end of a week which began with the 26-year-old giving a set-piece masterclass on TV. Square hips, “scaps” in a good shape, looking over the “glasses” when engaging… these titbits and more were a lively insight into the bittersweet science of the scrum, so at least Wasps knew what to expect.


The trouble for Northampton was that this area of domination contributed to no more than a decent 9-3 lead after 54 minutes, although it might have been more if a tight refereeing call hadn’t ruled out a try for George North – the hat-trick scorer in last week’s opening rout of Gloucester – when the big wing was judged to be in front of Ken Pisi’s clever kick-pass.

Tom Varndell holds off the tackle of Lee Dickson

Steve Myler and Andy Goode had swapped penalties for 3-3 in the opening quarter, and Myler kicked two more in the 48th and 55th minutes although the Northampton fly-half’s ultra-reliability was dented by a miss off the post earlier in the second half.

Another principal figure for Wasps was Joe Launchbury: splintering Saints mauls, running out wide, and oozing quality in front of England forwards coach Graham Rowntree.

On the flip side, rotten luck befell a summer Wasps signing, the Scotland fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, when he suffered a ligament injury to his left knee, after he had come on for Goode in time for Wasps’ purple patch and kicked two excellent conversions that “changed the outlook,” as Young put it.

The first Wasps try had unpromising beginnings with what looked the wrong decision to take a quick line-out. But Northampton’s handling on the counter-attack was laboured and Johnson picked off Burrell’s pass for a joyful 40-metre run-in to the right-hand corner and a 10-9 lead.

Then Varndell went over on the opposite wing, set free by Elliot Daly’s pass for a chip and re-gather at top pace, tiptoeing deftly through prone opponents. Varndell had only regained his starting place from Christian Wade when the latter was rested with the after-effects of a midweek mishap in his 4x4.

A dozy offside by Northampton allowed Jackson’s replacement Rob Miller to put Wasps 20-9 up, before Ben Foden’s late try, converted by Myler, salvaged a bonus point.

“I don’t think we played badly,” said Mallinder, “but any team that can push Saracens hard cannot be under-estimated. Wasps have certainly improved.”

Wasps: A Masi; S Tagicakibau, E Daly, C Bell, T Varndell; A Goode (R Jackson 54, R Miller 69), J Simpson (C Davies 74); M Mullan (J Yapp 74), C Festuccia (T Lindsay 41), L Cittadini (J Cooper-Woolley 56), J Launchbury, J Gaskell (K Myall 50), A Johnson, J Haskell (capt), N Hughes (G Thompson 74).

Northampton: J Wilson (B Foden 55); K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell, G North; S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i 50); A Corbisiero (A Waller 73), D Hartley (capt), S Ma’afu (G Denman 73), C Lawes, C Day (J Craig 57), C Clark (A Waller 32-41, J Fisher 73), T Wood, S Manoa.

Referee: L Pearce.