Tom Howe did a fine Christian Wade impression on his Premiership debut, but it wasn’t enough as Wasps were eventually overpowered 32-20 by Saracens at Adams Park this afternoon.
Marlow’s Howe was one of a raft of changes to Dai Young’s team and the Wasps boss got the reaction he wanted as the vim and vigour returned in a performance that was worth more than a 12 point loss.
Howe capped a sparkling individual performance with a second half try after fellow wing Jonah Holmes had touched down before the break, and only a TMO ruling denied Holmes a second score late on as Wasps battled to find a way back into the game.
A try then would have drawn the home team to within a score of their guests with ten minutes still to play, but it was one of a handful of marginal calls that went against them and in the end, despite rousing support from the home crowd, they got nothing at all out of the Premiership leaders.
Injuries to Elliott Daly and Nathan Hughes won’t have made their afternoon any better, but on the plus side Wasps can look forward to Gloucester in the Amlin Challenge Cup with genuine optimism after building on last week’s win over Worcester with a display that evoked memories of some of their most gutsy and gritty games this season.
Wasps had to wait 23 minutes to put their first points on the board and by then Saracens had scored a penalty and a TMO try through Jackson Wray to lead 10-0, but the black and golds were actually playing several notches above recent performances.
Two positional changes and two personnel changes in the backs had enlivened them with ball in hand and Howe and Andrea Masi had both looked threatening in the early stages.
The pack too were invigorated by fresh faces and it was the big men who earned the first points with a stampeding 25 metre rolling maul that took Wasps to the shadows of the posts. Saracens bought it down illegally with Mauritz Botha earning a yellow card for his efforts, and after two earlier misses Andy Goode converted the penalty to make it 10-3.
It wasn’t much of a reward for a spirited opening but it got better minutes later when Joe Simpson’s box kick was missed by Chris Ashton and Holmes, recalled from his loan at Leeds, flew passed him to reach the loose ball in the corner.
Goode lined up the conversion from wide on the left, but the width of an upright prevented Wasps from drawing level in front of their boisterous fans.
With their tails up, the black and golds were definitely back in it but Saracens are a powerful unit and they reacted to eight unanswered Wasps points by turning on the power for the rest of the half.
The hosts resisted stubbornly in their own 22, but Botha’s return tipped the scales Saracens way and with three minutes to go before half time hooker Jamie George went over from beneath a pile of bodies.
Charles Hodgson’s conversion made it 17-8 at the interval and Wasps were further hindered by a shoulder injury to Daly just before the break. He came out after it but only lasted another minute and at that stage, with the wing behind them, Saracens might have thought they had done the hard yards.
Wasps weren’t done yet though.
A whippet-like line break from Simpson took Wasps to within a yard of the line and when they got quick ball Goode’s missed pass handed Howe a simple trot over.
That cut the gap to four points but again Sarries found a muscular response with another quickfire ten points thanks for Alex Goode’s try and a penalty from England fly half Owen Farrell.
With 15 minutes left and a score of 13-27 Wasps were playing for a losing bonus point and when Holmes rolled over in the corner they thought they were on course.
It came after another rapier burst from Simpson, but referee Luke Pearce went upstairs for confirmation and the fourth official David Sainsbury ruled that the Saracens scramble defence held him up.
And that, effectively, was Wasps’ last chance.
Both teams scored again at the death, with Carlo Festuccia grounding for Wasps, but neither score had much bearing on the result.