January 23 2017
Wasps secured the bonus point win they needed to end up on top of pool 2 of the Champions Cup and now face a trip to Dublin, for a quarter final against Leinster, but it was far from easy.
With 30 minutes gone, they trailed 13-3, against a spirited Zebre side. Momentum shifted after the home side received a yellow card, and Wasps took immediate advantage of the extra man with three tries before half-time. The bonus point followed after a second yellow card against the home side, and two further second-half tries took Wasps to a comfortable victory.
After the home side kicked off, a lengthy opening passage of play ended with Christian Wade tackling Lloyd Greef into touch. Zebre stole the lineout and moved the ball out wide to the right. Frank Halai slipped unfortunately in midfield, giving the home side an overlap, but Kurtley Beale put in a try-saving tackle on Kurt Baker. Carlo Canna then hoisted a kick to the left corner, where Wade did well to gather and beat several defenders to launch a counterattack.
Wasps’ first incursion into the Zebre 22 came when Elliot Daly put in a kick downfield, following a turnover. Halai’s strong chase put the defence under pressure, before a clearance found touch just inside the Wasps half. Kurtley Beale then attempted to start a counterattack from his 22, but the pass to Tommy Taylor went to ground, 30 metres out, in the middle of the field. The first scrum of the game, in the eighth minute, saw the home pack driving forwards to win a penalty and Cana put his side ahead.
Wasps threatened immediately, when Zebre failed to control the re-start. Ashley Johnson gathered and the ball was moved out to the left, but Kyle Eastmond’s short inside pass just drfited forwards. Moments later, a lost Wasps’ lineout near their right corner, gave Zebre an attacking opportunity. They went through several phases, before Canna’s dummy created space for Mattia Bellini to go over for a try. Canna’s conversion gave Zebre a 10-0 lead, with 15 minutes played. Wasps immediately won a penalty from the re-start and Danny Cipriani’s 30-metre kick, from just to the right of the posts, put his side on the scoreboard.
Kyle Eastmond gathered the re-start and showed some neat footwork to break out of the 22, but the next Wasps’ attack, following a quick penalty near their 22, ended with Frank Halai being penalised for not releasing, 15 metres inside the home half.
On 22 minutes, a Zebre attack was going nowhere so Canna attempted a drop at goal from outside the 22. The ball only went a few metres above ground and was dropping well short, but then dipped awkwardly for Dan Robson, who knocked on in front of the posts.
Before the scrum was formed, Nathan Hughes replaced Guy Thompson who was forced off with a hand injury. The scrum went down and Zebre won another penalty, giving Marcello Violi the simplest of kicks to stretch the lead to 13-3, in the 25th minute.
Zebre won a penalty directly from the re-start, when Elliot Daly clipped Lloyd Greef. Wasps then produced their best scrum of the game and launched an attack from the back row. A loop move created space out on the right, but Nathan Hughes lost the ball in contact. The referee had been playing advantage from the scrum. Wasps found touch in the 22 and mounted their first sustained attack, with James Haskell, Matt Symons and Tommy Taylor all putting in strong bursts, until defensive pressure forced Elliot Daly into touch, just inside the 22.
After a lengthy consultation with the TMO, the referee awarded Wasps a penalty in front of the posts for a no-arms tackle which earned hooker Olivieri Fabiani a yellow card. Wasps opted for a scrum and Nathan Hughes picked up to go for the line. He was stopped just short, but Ashley Johnson was on hand to gather and power his way over for a try, 15 metres in from the left touchline. Danny Cipriani’s conversion attempt drifted just wide of the right-hand post.
A minute later, Wasps won a lineout penalty on the Zebre 22 and went for the left corner. Tommy Taylor threw to the front, where Matt Symons gathered. A short drive took play close to the line before the ball was released and Danny Cipriani glided through a gap to level the scores with a try near the posts. His conversion put Wasps ahead for the first time, just over three minutes before halftime.
After a long Zebre kick found touch near the left corner, the Wasps’ pack put in a devastating drive from the lineout, making 40 metres before they won a penalty, seconds before the break. They again went for touch and quick lineout ball was spun out wide, with slick passing giving Elliot Daly the chance to mark his 150th appearance for Wasps by gliding over near the left corner. Cipriani ended the half with a magnificent conversion to give his side a 22-13 lead, which hardly reflected how the first 40 minutes had gone.
It was the home side who fired the first shots of the second half, with a powerful burst by Lloyd Greef down one wing and a burst of pace by Guglielmo Palazzani down the other. Wasps responded with Kurtley Beale’s mazy run through midfield. Eight minutes into the half, a penalty to the left corner gave Wasps their opportunity to secure the bonus point, but the lineout drive was quickly snuffed out and a series of short thrusts for the line ended with a penalty to Zebre for not releasing.
With the home support finding their voice, Zebre began to find some momentum with a strong run by replacement Dries van Schalkwyk taking play deep into the Wasps 22. A breakdown penalty gave Wasps the chance to relieve the pressure and Zebre were then reduced to 14 again, when Derick Minnie was shown the yellow card for an offence at a maul. Wasps went to the corner and the lineout drive proved unstoppable, with Ashley Johnson touching down for his second try to secure the bonus point. Another good Cipriani conversion, again from the left touchline, stretched the lead to 29-13.
A fifth try came minutes later, after Cipriani’s long pass found Christian Wade in space on the right, nearly 40 metres out. His pace took him outside the defence to touch down for a superbly taken try. Cipriani missed the conversion, but Wasps were now comfortably clear at 34-13.
By 63 minutes, Wasps had cleared their bench, with Craig Hampson and Josh Bassett completing the replacements. Hampson was immediately involved in a breakaway which could have led to another try, but Beale couldn’t quite collect the pass and knocked on just outside the 22. The next try came moments later, at the other end of the field, when Mattia Bellini sent Kurt Baker over under the posts. Carlo Canna converted to make the score 34-20, aftert 68 minutes.
Wasps seemed to have found the perfect response, following Ashley Johnson’s charge through the middle. Quick hands sent the ball out to Josh Bassett, who went over in the corner but the TMO ruled that his foot had clipped the touchline, just before he touched down.
With seven minutes left, Frank Halai gathered a clearance just inside the Wasps half. He fed Kurtley Beale, who sent a diagonal kick towards the left touchline. Elliot Daly leapt high to gather but was unable to hold on to the ball on this occasion, with a run to the line ahead.
Four minutes from time, Josh Bassett’s searing run through the middle set up try number six. With the defence on the back foot, recycled possession moved the ball out to the right, where MOTM Elliot Daly combined with Bassett to send Nathan Hughes crashing over. Danny Cipriani’s conversion made the score 41-20.
The final score went to the home side, with Dries Van Schalkwyk going over by the posts, and Marcello Violi converting, to end the game with Wasps victorious by 41 points to 27 and a Champions Cup Quarter Final in Dublin to look forward to, Wasps third consecutive Quarter Final in the Champions Cup.