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Off-colour Wasps stung late on again
WASPS suffered late agony again as the patience and composure Dai Young said his team lacked against Harlequins was again missing in a 23-20 home defeat to London Irish.
The black and golds shot themselves in the foot in the opening stages as they fell 10-0 and then 17-3 down, but the real damage was done in the final half hour.
Having battled back into the game during a strong second quarter, the match looked there for the taking when Irish scrum half Tomas O'Leary was sent off for a dangerous stamp on James Haskell.
There was still half an hour to play, and within moments of that misdemeamour Wasps fly half Joe Carlisle had cut the gap to 17-14 with a penalty.
With time on their side, all the momentum and a numerical advantage to boot, the black and golds could hardly fail.
But they did, and the panic that infected them in the last quarter, when turnovers and penalties blighted their every move, could leave some lasting mental scars.
Irish deserved it for their doggedness and sheer spirit, but this was a game that Wasps had in the palm of their hands.
They won't expect such luxuries at Bath next weekend.
Wasps had been warned to expect an Irish backlash and they certainly got it, finding themselves 10-0 down after eight minutes and 17-3 adrift after the first quarter.
Having lost heavily in the LV=Cup a fortnight ago, albeit with a makeshift side, and then going down by a point to Quins last week, this was a test of nerve and character for the black and golds.
On the flip side, Irish were bouncing. They had the wind at their backs and an away victory over Saracens to further nudge them along, and the Exiles must have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of another 20 minutes camped inside Wasps territory.
Wasps though, had been architects of their own downfall in the early stages, conceding the first try to Ian Humphreys after Elliot Daly's clearing kick was charged down and then handing the visitors further momentum with a couple of cheap penalties.
James O'Connor landed the first of them, and with hooker David Paice digging his way over from close range after an extended spell of pressure on the try line, they were good value for their 14-point lead.
The black and golds are a resilient bunch nowadays though, and by cutting out the errors they began to get a foothold in the game.
Carlisle's low, drilled penalty into the breeze had got them off the mark with 11 minutes gone, and after 24 minutes they were right back in it with a try from their first visit to the Irish 22.
Daly sparked the attack with a surging run over the halfway line and when the ball was recycled Andrea Masi's clever grubber bobbled into the corner for James Short to chase. The faintest of downwards pressure was all it took, and although Carlisle missed the touchline conversion the home team were suddenly on the front foot.
In fact, they could easily have gone to the interval with their noses in front. Two more Wasps penalties came in the final ten minutes of the half. Both were kicked to the corner but their trademark driving maul couldn't break Irish down and when Wasps came again through Masi's direct line, a turnover ended the attack and frustrated the home crowd.
The break didn't disrupt the Wasps' rhythm though. Straight from the restart they were at Irish throats, putting the phases together inside their opponent's 22.
Two more penalties came in the first four minutes of the half, and after failing to turn the first of these into seven points Carlisle accepted three from the second to cut the gap to six points.
The game's critical moment though, came with half an hour remaining, when referee Tim Wigglesworth awarded Irish a penalty in front of the posts. However, their chance to stretch the lead to nine points was lost when television replays showed scrum half O'Leary stamp on Haskell's head.
The penalty was promptly reversed, O'Leary was sent off and minutes later another Carlisle penalty had made it 17-14.
From there it should have been a straightforward run to the line for the home, but the self-assured calm that Young has so often spoken about deserted them. They had time on their side, but turnovers and indiscipline ate up large chunks of it and even allowed Irish the opportunity to pull away again with another penalty.
Carlisle responded in kind, but with just over ten minutes left they were still trailing 20-17 and seemingly struggling to take what was on a plate for them.
The fly half though, was perhaps the calmest man in the stadium and another penalty – taking his personal tally 15 points - finally wiped out the deficit.
They weren't there yet though, and in fact they never got there.
A Shane Geraghty drop goal six minutes from time edged Irish back into a three point lead and despite a fervent home crowd behind Wasps, too many turnovers in the final stages cost them dearly as they contrived to lose a game that was theirs for the taking with half an hour to play.