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Wasps suffer opening day heartache at Twickenham again
ANDY Goode was the width of a post away from being an instant Wasps hero as his touchline conversion attempt, the last kick of an opening day match with Harlequins at Twickenham, bounced away off an upright.
Tom Palmer had just cut Harlequins' lead from six points to one with a last-minute try in the corner and all Goode had to do to snatch victory was knock the kick over.
But his attempt spiralled into an upright, a one-point deficit wasn't upgraded to a one-point lead and, just like last season, Wasps left Rugby HQ with a galling defeat stuck in their throats.
But it was a finish as encouraging as it was crushing.
Wasps imploded against the same opponents on the same ground 12 months ago, losing 42-40 from 40-13 ahead, but this team absorbed huge Quins pressure without breaking apart and when they finally did bend, with nine minutes left, they had the wherewithall to go again and force a frantic finale.
And it so nearly saved them; Wasps were close to scoring a few times before Palmer finally crashed over. But they'll also look back on a first half which they dominated and wonder perhaps if 10-3 was a fair return.
Wasps might have had five debutants in their team, but there was something oddly familiar about the day as, like last year, the match began with a flurry of points.
Again it was Wasps making the faster start with Joe Launchbury going over right from the kick off. Flanker Guy Thompson punched the first hole in the Quins defence with a meaty charge, and when he was finally felled 10m short it was the England lock on his shoulder.
Goode nudged over the conversion and then answered a Nick Evans penalty with one of his own to make it 10-3 to Wasps with 15 minutes gone.
It was a brave attempt to keep up with the point-a-minute ratio of 2012, but a repeat of that phenomenon was never on the cards and by half time the match had settled down into a far more cagey affair.
Wasps had had the better of it, and their lead might have easily have been greater had joint top try-scorers from last season Christian Wade and Tom Varndell managed to convert one of three here-we-are-again moments in the first half.
Wade was first to show as he sliced through the Quins line in pursuit of his own chip. Ugo Monye cleared up well, but minutes later the Wycombe superstar was in again after snatching the ball out of an opponent's hands and taking off from 50m.
Only the referee's whistle could catch him this time, and in the final moments of the half Twickenham was poised to erupt again as Varndell opened his lungs on the opposite flank.
A second try would have been a fitting end to what was a very assured first 40 from Dai Young's men, but a superb, stretching ankle-tap from Quins centre George Lowe stopped Varndell and, with Goode missing one penalty and Evans two, 10-3 it remained at half time.
Wasps were good value for it, but having failed to protect a 28-13 interval lead last year they knew the job wasn't even half done, and the old fears must have come flooding back when Evans reduced the lead to a single point with penalties after 46 and 49 minutes.
With the initiative now with Quins, Wasps dug a trench in front of their own line and for 20 minutes the structures instilled by new defence coach Brad Davis was subjected to the sternest of tests.
Quins had all the territory and virtually all the ball, but while they scored at will last time, the gaps they strolled through weren't there this time and it wasn't until replacement Karl Dickson skipped through around the fringes to score with nine minute to go that Wasps were finally breached.
They did rally themselves after that, and although it's hard to get up to speed from a standing start they did a pretty good job of it as they pressed Quins back into their own 22.
Palmer's score was their reward, but the second highest points scorer in Premiership history was denied by a matter of inches.
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