Stuttering Wasps cough and splutter to home win

Ashley Johnson scored twice on his return to the side

Ashley Johnson scored twice on his return to the side

First published in Sport by

WASPS ended their pre-season schedule with a second successive home win after they chipped off a bit more rust in a 2-8-18 victory over Connacht at Adams Park.

It was mission accomplished in terms of game time with all 27 squad members getting a run out, but the improvements in accuracy and set piece Dai Young called for were marginal at best and, if anything, as a whole Wasps were a step down from their win over London Welsh last weekend.

They have scored nine tries in their two warm-up matches and created a host of other glaring chances besides, but the complete package has yet to be unwrapped and there is plenty still to achieve on the training ground in the final two weeks before the Aviva Premiership bursts back into life.

Wasps moved nearer to a first choice XV with a few key players returning to the team for Connacht and few more to the replacements bench, but in the first half particularly they looked like a side still stuck in pre-season mode.

There were far, far too many handling errors for Young’s liking – striking fumbles from Nathan Hughes and Tom Varndell particularly ugly - and although the scrum offered a solid base the line out remained a moveable feast for the black and golds.

Italian hooker Carlo Festuccia got it right after 15 minutes to send Ashley Johnson over for a now signature try from the back of a drive, but later in the half Wasps lost a line out on their own 5m and it would have cost them seven points had a combination of Elliot Daly and Sailosi Tagicakibau not held Willie Faloon up on the line.

There was more cause for concern with starting fly half Ruaridh Jackson and number eight Sam Jones both hobbling out of the action before the interval, although neither injury looked serious, and in truth Wasps fans had precious little to cheer about in the first 40.

Daly and Tom Varndell both linked well to send Rob Miller scampering to within yards of the line in the first minute; Varndell himself set off on a weaving run from deep that drew fans forward in their seats and, apart from his tries, Johnson’s return immediately added to the dynamism and power in the back row.

James Gaskell also made an eye-catching start but, as a unit, Wasps fell short in the first half and were lucky to go down the tunnel 7-6 ahead, with Connacht scrum half kicking two of his three penalties.

The second half began in the same vein with Charlie Davies spilling the ball from Varndell’s pass when the tryline was at his mercy, but Wasps were gradually winding themselves up and they took a grip on the game with two scores inside ten minutes.

Johnson got his and Wasps’ second from close in before Man of the Match Gaskell emerged from beneath a pile of bodies to claim his first try since switching from Sale.

Andy Goode converted both scores to make it 21-6, but within minutes Eoin McKeon had been bundled over for the visitors to keep the contest alive.

By then Young had made a raft of changes.

James Haskell, Andrea Masi, Ben Jacobs, Tom Lindsay, Thomas Young and Matt Mullan had followed Goode, Hughes and Davies onto the pitch, and they cut a path for the later introduction of Will Rowlands and Jonah Holmes as Wasps emptied their bench.

They were duly rewarded 15 minutes from time with a fourth try, scored by Varndell after Rowland’s surging break and smart off load, and Goode’s conversion eased them out to 28-11.

A second Connacht try in the final knockings cut the winning margin to ten points, but the actual scorline mattered less than the performance and on that front Wasps will need to find another level the next time they play.

Saracens at Twickenham will be an altogether different prospect – although Joe Launchbury and possibly Christian Wade will both be available again.

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