The outcome of an 11-try frolic suited both sides, even if neither director of rugby left the ground satisfied. Wasps secured five points to confirm their place in the play-offs and Worcester, who had waited for an away point all season, saw two come along at once to ease their relegation fears. They finished on the offensive despite the red card shown to their wing Bryce Heem early in the second half for taking out Willie le Roux in the air.
Worcester moved nine points clear of the bottom club, Bristol, with four matches to play. They had looked the better team until Heem’s dismissal, strong up front, avaricious at the breakdown, where Wasps were hustled into mistakes, and enterprising behind. The hapless Heem, who had scored the opening try of the match, was denied a second when the centre Jackson Willison was ruled on review to have obstructed a defender.
It was a day when the major decisions went in favour of the team at the top rather than the side who had spent the season in the nether reaches. There was nothing contentious about Heem’s red card, given the instructions issued to referees. The wing – put off by Kurtley Beale who stood in front of him as Le Roux jumped for the ball – neither competed for the ball nor got out of the way and the result was a head-first landing that resulted in a concussion.
Worcester had grounds to question the ruling out of Heem’s try on review because the blocking by Willison did not prevent a tackle from being made and the Wasps’ centre Alapati Leiua was fortunate his tackle around the neck of the full-back Chris Pennell, who needed a head injury assessment, did not result in a yellow card on the hour. And, not least given the home side’s winning margin, it was surprising that Leiua’s 55th-minute try, his side’s fourth, was not reviewed because Josh Bassett had appeared to chase a kick from an offside position in the buildup.
The Worcester director of rugby, Gary Gold, said he was more concerned about opportunities his side had not taken than any debatable refereeing decisions, although he pondered the wisdom of a blanket rule on mistimed aerial challenges that made tactical high-kicking hazardous. “I have no issue with the [Heem] decision but common sense should prevail because this is not part of the game we want to exclude,” he said. “We do not want injuries but, if we are worried about collisions, we will stop having kick-offs and restarts, chucking the ball in like netball.”
Worcester were drawing 19-19 when Heem was sent off, unfortunate not to be ahead. Wasps, six days before their European Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin, were afflicted by drowsiness, stirring themselves when they needed to. Their second try, scored by Christian Wade who had created the first for Will Rowlands, was exquisite: Danny Cipriani and Jimmy Gopperth swapped positions at a scrum and Wade drifted into midfield from his wing to add his venomous pace.
Wade scored the leaders’ third with the last play of the opening half, leaving Pennell clutching air, and there were times when they were able effortlessly to raise the quality of the game through an offload, a supporting line or a defence-splitting pass, but in a match they were expected to win at a canter they lacked the hunger of their opponents and it needed the hooker Ashley Johnson’s tackling to keep them in the game in the opening period when he saved two certain tries and three potential ones. Two points were the least Worcester deserved after complementing desire with ambition.
They looked as if they would be returning home with nothing for the ninth time on the road in the league this season after tries by the replacements Josh Bassett and Brendan Macken left them 40-19 behind but, when Wasps’ replacement prop Matt Mullan was sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away near his own line after Thomas Young made a try-saving tackle, the final five minutes had the teams matched numerically. After the prop Biyi Alo secured a try bonus point, Willison added a losing one with the last play of the game.
“Everyone knows we have quality but in the latter stages of the season we have to show we have the belly for the fight,” the Wasps’ director of rugby, Dai Young said. “I do not take anything away from Worcester but we were pretty poor. Their tries at the end made the scoreline a fair reflection of the game. They were sharper than us.”
Worcester have secured 12 points in the five matches Gold has been in charge, having picked up 14 in the first 12 rounds. “I’m proud of the players but I do not want us to get in the position where losing a game of rugby becomes satisfactory,” he said when asked if he was happy at securing two points here. “We are not out of the relegation zone and I do not want us to be talking as if we are.”
Wasps Beale; Wade, Leiua, Gopperth (Macken, 65), Le Roux (Bassett, 45); Cipriani, Robson (Simpson, 62); McIntyre (Mullan, 54), Johnson (capt; Cruse, 65), Moore (Cooper-Woolley, 57), Rowlands (Symons, 62), Myall, Haskell (Thompson, h-t), Young, Rieder.
Tries Wade 2, Rowlands, Leiua, Bassett, Macken Cons Gopperth 4, Cipriani.
Sin-bin Mullan, 75.
Worcester Pennell; Heem, Olivier (Hammond, 70), Willison, Adams (Humphreys, 76); Mills, Hougaard (Baldwin, 68); Ruskin (Bower, 42), Taufete’e (Bregvadze, 65), Schonert (Alo, 65), O’Callaghan (capt), Spencer, Vui, Lewis (Dowson, 73), Mama.
Tries Adams 2, Heem, Alo, Willison Cons Mills 4.
Red card Heem, 45.
Referee L Pearce. Attendance 14,949.