Wasps were made to work very hard by Newcastle Falcons, as they eventually got a 31-6 bonus point win with the final play of the game.
Despite being far from their best, Wasps had enough to see off a resolute Newcastle side, who dominated long periods of the game.
After going 17-0 down in the first half, the visitors looked capable of pulling off a shock victory, before Wasps belatedly found their fluency, with replacement Danny Cipriani sending Jimmy Gopperth in for two late tries. The second, well after the clock reached zero, secured a bonus point which means that Wasps are only one point behind leaders Saracens, ahead of the two-week break for the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Newcastle enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening minutes, but the Wasps defence, showing impressive line speed, denied them any space and the game was played largely between the 22s.
When Wasps found their way into Newcastle territory, they conceded a turnover in midfield, then lost a scrum on their own put-in. After seven minutes, a high tackle on Christian Wade gave Wasps the chance to make their first incursion into the Newcastle 22 but the lineout was lost.
Three minutes later, a scrum went down on halfway and there was a lengthy stoppage as Marty Moore required treatment before being carried off on a stretcher as a precautionary measure. Jake Cooper-Woolley took his place in the front row.
Wasps had been struggling to build any momentum, but they finally burst into life on thirteen minutes when they ran the ball from deep. Frank Halai was stopped just inside the Newcastle half, but Rob Miller darted through a gap to take play deep into the 22. The defence conceded a penalty and Jimmy Gopperth opened the scoring from 25 metres.
This seemed to provide the spark Wasps had needed, as they immediately launched into a flowing attack after Kyle Eastmond found some space in midfield. Joe Launchbury joined the move before feeding Rob Miller, who was stopped near the left corner. The ball was moved back across the field, where Eastmond had the unmarked Christian Wade outside him. The potential scoring pass was deflected into the path of Frank Halai, who gathered and looked to have scored near the corner. After a lengthy consultation with the TMO, the referee ruled that Simon Hammersley had been guilty of a deliberate knock-on. The fullback was shown a yellow card and a penalty try was awarded, which Gopperth duly converted.
Barely a minute later, Halai crossed the line again and this time his try counted. Man of the match Joe Launchbury’s superb chase and catch gave Wasps quick ball. They moved play out to the left and Elliot Daly chipped deep into the Newcastle 22. Halai gathered the bouncing ball and stepped inside the cover to go over near the corner. Gopperth’s conversion took the score to 17-0 with 20 minutes played.
The visitors responded strongly, winning a series of penalties deep inside the Wasps 22. From the third, the lineout drive was forced back several metres. When the ball was released, Sinoti Sinoti came off his wing to go for the line, but Newcastle were penalised.
Although the penalty failed to find touch, Mike Delany’s kick went out on the full, giving Wasps a lineout, just inside the visitors’ half. Quick passing gave Christian Wade the chance to break away down the left, but he was forced into touch a few metres outside the 22.
Another lengthy passage of play saw the ball criss-cross the field several times before Ashley Johnson’s ambitious reverse pass failed to find a Wasps hand and the ball sailed harmlessly into touch, 15 metres inside the Newcastle half.
With six minutes of the half still to play, Matt Mullan won a turnover just inside the Newcastle half. Wasps moved the ball quickly out to the left, where Jimmy Gopperth went through a gap before chipping infield. Mike Delany did well to cover under extreme pressure. A clearance was half-charged-down by Joe Launchbury and Kyle Eastmond did well to leap high and gather the ricochet to keep the attack going, but Wasps were unable to find their way through the defence.
With under a minute left before the break, Wasps were penalised on their 22, directly in front of the posts. Mike Delany’s kick opened his side’s score and brought the half to an end with Wasps holding a 17-3 lead.
The visitors began the second half with several minutes of possession, but the aggressive Wasps defence never looked like cracking and Delany again found touch on the full, allowing Wasps to cross halfway. Further Newcastle pressure won them a penalty inside the Wasps 22, when Guy Thompson was trapped at the bottom of a ruck and penalised for not rolling away. He was injured in the process and left the field for a head injury assessment, to be replaced by James Gaskell. Delany had the simplest of kicks, to narrow the gap to 17-6.
Directly from the restart, Newcastle displayed their growing confidence with a thrilling attack from the 22. When Marcus Watson slipped a tackle to burst through to the Wasps 22, the alarm bells were ringing, but possession was spilt and Elliot Daly’s clearance found touch, 15 metres inside the Newcastle half.
Dan Robson then replaced Joe Simpson with Rob Miller made way for Danny Cipriani. Cipriani went to fly half, with Jimmy Gopperth dropping back to fullback. Moments later, Guy Thompson returned to the field. Elliot Daly then displayed fine sportsmanship when he chased Danny Cipriani’s kick ahead. Simon Hammersley gathered, inside his 22, but jarred his knee and landed awkwardly. He lost control of the ball and Daly only had to pick it up, to stroll over for a try. Instead, he stayed with the injured Hammersley, who was helped from the field.
Wasps had been struggling to find any fluency and the visitors were completely dominant. Former Wasp Dominic Waldouck went close on the left and Newcastle were then denied a try when Juan Pablo Socino was ruled to have lost control of the ball, as he went over by the posts. Several minutes of severe pressure were ended, when Wasps won a penalty a few metres from their line.
Wasps then came close to snatching a third try, completely against the run of play, when Danny Cipriani sent a kick towards the left corner. It was rolling into the in-goal area, with Sinoti Sinoti strolling after it, when Guy Thompson appeared from nowhere and dived for the ball. The TMO ruled that he had not grounded the ball, but the third try came with eleven minutes left. Wasps attacked down the left and Cipriani’s inside pass sent Jimmy Gopperth in for a fine try, which took him past a hundred Premiership points for the season. Gopperth added the extra two points, taking Wasps clear at 24-6, and chasing a bonus point which had been looking well beyond them.
Seven minutes from time, Jake Cooper-Woolley was helped from the field. With no more props on the bench, the game went to uncontested scrums. Wasps put together a lengthy attack, which won them a penalty with the clock at zero. They went for the corner and were nearly forced into touch, before the drive was straightened and play came infield. Another penalty was conceded in front of the posts. Nathan Hughes’s drive was stopped, play went out to the left before coming back out to the right, and Cipriani’s precision pass sent Jimmy Gopperth in for his second try of the day, and fifth of the Premiership season. The Kiwi’s conversion ended the afternoon, leaving the final score at a slightly flattering 31-6.