Wasps 44 Bristol Bears 8
Bristol Bears, who finished last season atop the Premiership, now find themselves in a deep hole at bottom of the table after a six-try trashing by Wasps.
After losing their opening match of the season 26-9 at home to Saracens, you expected a backlash from Pat Lam’s side. Instead they capitulated in worrying fashion against a Wasps’ team whom had captain Brad Shields sent off for two yellow cards.
Guided by the master manipulator Dan Robson at scrum-half, Wasps were clinical throughout. Ali Crossdale, a summer signing from Saracens, scored two exceptional close-range tries in the first half. Shields went over shortly after half-time while the game was still in the balance before Dan Frost, Tom Willis and Zach Kibrige crossed in the final quarter.
Yet as head coach Lee Blackett was quick to emphasise, it was a victory based squarely on the tenacity of their defence as Wasps weathered long periods of pressure, especially at the maul. “The way we held them out at times was outstanding,” Blackett said. “We put ourselves under pressure, but our resilience close to the line was outstanding.” The one significant cloud on their horizon was the dislocated shoulder suffered by centre Malakai Fekitoa.
Bristol are missing players, most notably Semi Radradra – and what side wouldn’t miss the Fijian superstar? – but both Saracens and Wasps are even more depleted in terms of the resources. More worrying still for director of rugby Lam was the manner in which Wasps bossed Bristol at the breakdown.
“Trust the process” is Lam’s mantra but you wonder whether the scars of their semi-final defeat to Harlequins have fully healed. Losing a 28-0 lead at home cannot be explained away as another one of those days. Still Lam did his best to put a brave face on a desperately disappointing performance. “Look at both games we have played, we have had opportunities but we were our own worst enemies, making errors at key moments,” Lam said. “Human beings play rugby, game plan makes opportunities but players make mistakes and grow and that is the beauty of this team.
“It would be a challenge if this was our first year, this is our fifth year, we know we can bring it back to a game of rugby and we can win games of rugby, the boys are tight and we have built this to win these moments. Every dog gets his day and we haven’t had our day – our day will come.”
The West Country derby against Bath on Friday night now assumes even greater significance, although Bristol are likely to be down on numbers. Charles Piutau and Alapati Leiua both picked up knocks while your heart sank for Harry Thacker, the Bristol hooker who missed large stretches of last season, who departed after just eight minutes with an apparent hip injury. Wasps too have suffered from their share of terrible luck with injuries starting their season without their leading English performers Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis, Alfie Barbeary and Paolo Odogwu.
After falling behind early on to a Callum Sheedy penalty, the home side quickly found their stride. Jacob Umaga missed one penalty and sent the next one to the corner. Spreading play from the maul, their momentum seemed to be halted by Bristol’s defensive linespeed but the power of Malakai Fekitoa and quick hands of Umaga got the ball in Crossdale. Ignoring his support outside, Crossdale backed his searing pace to reach the line before Lloyd whose despairing tackle succeeded only in decapitating the corner flag.
Umaga missed the conversion but succeeded with a penalty to give Wasps a slender 8-3 lead. Bristol were struggling to generate consistent momentum but were finally able to turn the screw after a a succession of mauls in the right-hand corner which resulted in Shields being sin-binned and prop Max Lahiff being driven over for a collector’s item of a try.
The swing in momentum did not last for long as Robin Hislop pounced on an isolated Dave Attwood to force a penalty from the kick-off, which Umaga converted, and the fly half further turned the screw with a delightful banana kick that turned into a 50-22. By the time, Shields returned from his spell in the bin, Wasps had a lineout deep inside the Bristol 22. After a series of pick and goes, Willis got the necessary penetration to allow Crossdale to annihilate poor Lloyd with his sidestep and score his second.
“You saw how fast he is,” Lee Blackett, the Wasps head coach, said. “He is someone who has got that ability to beat people with out and out pace. He is still young and there’s plenty more to come.”
Bristol’s hole continued to deepen in the second half. Andy Uren had his pocket picked by Robson at a scrum, with a crafty toe poke, allowing Shields to score. No sooner than Bristol thought they had a foothold back into the game when Dan Thomas went over than the try was ruled out for Piers O’Conor’s crafty hold of Robson’s ankle at a ruck.
What could have been an eight-point gap, instead became a 22-point chasm. Bristol went wide but did not have enough numbers in support allowing Wasps to counter-ruck. With the ball available, replacement Dan Frost picked up and thundered down the left wing to score Wasps’ bonus point score.
Nothing was going Bristol’s way. Even when Shields received his second yellow card for another maul offence, the visiting team could not capitalise as Wasps’ defence repeatedly came up with crucial turnovers in their own 22. Instead they add about 50 litres of gloss to the final scoreline. Ben Harris, who made an eye-catching impact as a replacement, forced a turnover from which Willis cantered home and almost direct from kick off Kibirige gleefully capitalised on a loose ball to run in the sixth try.
Wasps: A Crossdale; M Watson (Z Kibirige, 72), M Fekitoa (J Gopperth, 41), M Le Bourgeois, J Bassett; J Umaga, D Robson (W Porter, 77); R Hislop (B Harris, 62), T Cruse (D Frost, 60), J Toomaga-Allen (B Alo, 21-33, 60), V Fifita (T Cardall, 70), E Stooke, B Shields, G Oghre (B Morris, 60), T Willis.
Sin-bin: Shields 25-35
Red card: Shields 68
Bristol: C Piutau (H Randall, 67); N Adeolokun (H Purdy, 55), P O'Conor, A Leiua (S Bedlow, 38), I Lloyd; C Sheedy, A Uren; Y Thomas (J Woolmore, 62), H Thacker (W Capon, 8), M Lahiff (J Armstrong, 62), D Attwood (E Holmes, 59), C Vui, S Luatua, D Thomas, N Hughes (J Heenan, 59).
Referee: Karl Dickson.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, Sheedy pen; 5-3, Crossdale try; 8-3, Umaga pen; 8-8, Lahiff try; 11-8, Umaga pen; 16-8, Crossdale try; 21-8, Shields try; 23-8, Gopperth con; 28-8, Frost try; 30-8, Gopperth con; 35-8, Willis try; 37-8, Gopperth con; 42-8, Kibirige try; 44-8, Gopperth con;