James Haskell was sent off for a dangerous tackle as Wasps saw their hopes of reaching the Champions Cup knockout stages effectively come to an end after a stunning comeback by Harlequins. Marcus Smith played a key role for Harlequins, coming off the bench to inspire their late rally but for Wasps it was a dreadful way to let victory slip away.
In a thrilling finish, Haskell saw red with four minutes to go for a swinging arm on Jamie Roberts. By that stage Smith had come on to play his part in two Harlequins tries to bring his side to within two points and James Chisholm’s last-gasp try sealed victory for the hosts.
It is a killer blow for Wasps, who led 21-0 after half an hour and by 16 points with 15 minutes to go. For Haskell, things may get worse. He will face disciplinary hearing this week and having been called into camp by England recently, he could be banned for the start of the Six Nations.
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Smith came on for Mike Brown who may yet prove an injury scare for England on the hour and had a hand in two late Harlequins tries – converting both – to bring his side to within just two points. The 18-year-old signed a bumper first professional contract this week worth more than £200,000 a year and this was just another example of why.
After half an hour Wasps were cruising towards a bonus-point victory. Three tries – all converted by Danny Cipriani – gave them a commanding lead with Harlequins barely able to get out of first gear and reeling from the loss of Charlie Walker to injury after just five minutes.
In truth, it was a scrappy start but Wasps were in the ascendancy when Lewis Boyce, in at loosehead for Harlequins after Joe Marler’s suspension, was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Just two minutes later, Wasps had their first try after a sharp handling from Cipriani, Willie le Roux and Thomas Young put Kyle Eastmond clear.
With Boyce still in the sin-bin, Nizaam Carr then scored a superb solo try, running in from all of 50 metres after more quick hands from Wasps – Haskell providing the assist. Carr has a considerable turn of speed but the ease with which he shrugged off Mike Brown’s tackle typified Harlequins’ listless start. Indeed, the home side turned down a kickable penalty but Dave Ward’s lineout throw was adjudged not straight and soon after Wasps were over for try No3 – Ashley Johnson the scorer from a driving lineout.
Had Cipriani been aware that he had team-mates around him on his own 22 when intercepting the ball, it would most probably have been a fourth for Wasps but instead he hacked on and James Lang, evading two tackles, kicked ahead for Ross Chisholm to get Harlequins on the board.
Lang, a 22-year-old fly-half making his Champions Cup debut missed the conversion, but then stepped his way over the try-line following a Harlequins scrum near the Wasps line on the stroke of half-time. Suddenly Harlequins were in the game again.
They too do not do things the easy way all the time and Harlequins were staring down the barrel again when Brendan Macken powered past Roberts after taking a well-timed pass from Cipriani. Significantly, it gave Wasps the bonus point they had targeted but the visitors could not see it out. With 15 minutes to go, Danny Care sniped over from close range after a concerted period of Harlequins pressure and Smith’s conversion brought he side to within nine.
Smith was purring at this stage and his long, floated pass to Elia Elia put the replacement hooker away in the corner. He nailed the tricky conversion from the left-hand touchline for good measure. Then came Haskell’s moment of madness and James Chisholm’s killer blow.