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Patrick Lennon reports from the Causeway Stadium, High Wycombe
London Irish were the architects of their own defeat at the Causeway Stadium in a match in which the dominant sound was the referee’s whistle. Time and again Irish were penalised for basic errors that proved costly given that the opposition had a goal kicker of Mark Van Gisbergen’s quality.
The New Zealander was successful with six out of eight attempts at goal thus giving his team a platform on which to defend. His 17 points were to prove crucial as the Exiles’s defence rebuffed all Wasps’ efforts to add to their one, fortunate, first half try. That try was the result of an attempted clearance kick by Mark Mapletoft being blocked by Wasps’ captain Rob Howley. He collected the ball and passed to centre Fraser Waters who slipped the ball to right wing Shane Roiser who raced in to score. That converted try in the 25th minute was to prove to be the crucial difference between the teams at the final whistle.
On a grey, overcast but dry day in High Wycombe the players, in particular the kickers, coped well with a chill wind blowing down from the Chiltern Hills. Wasps started in lively fashion forcing Irish to defend inside their 22. The Exiles in attempting to clear their lines were penalised for crossing in the third minute, Van Gisbergen had no difficulty in registering the home side’s first points.
Over the following ten minutes both fly halves were to be unsuccessful with kicks at goal and for position. Their inaccuracy seemed to spread to their team mates as the error count on both sides led to a very disjointed passage of play. Mark Mapletoft scored Irish’s first points through a penalty in the 13th minute. While this score spurred Irish to attack – and some of the handling was of high quality – Mr Barnes, the 24 years old referee, found fault with much of what the Exiles were doing resulting in penalties and errors that Wasps did not capitalise on.
In the 25th minute the home side did have that little luck when Roiser finished with a try following Howley’s block of Mapletoft’s attempted clearance. Irish had the chance to reduce the deficit in the 29th minute, however Mapletoft’s penalty drifted wide. Not so Van Gisbergen’s penalty four minutes later, he was successful with that one and another in the first minute of first half injury time to give his team a half-time lead of 16-3.
Wasps started the second half as they had the first dominating territory and possession. As often happens however, it was Irish who were to register the first points of the second period through a successful Mapletoft penalty.
Two minutes later in one of the finest handling moves of the half Ed Thrower burst from deep inside his own half, outstripped most of the Wasps’ cover, only to be forced into touch just short of the try line by a fine tackle by his opposite number Tom Voyce.
Over the next ten minutes the game was to swing one way, then the other as both sides sought that elusive try that would shift the balance of the game definitively in their favour. Mapletoft narrowed the margin to 16-12 with a penalty in the 55th minute, Van Gisbergen kicked a penalty to touch four minutes later. Despite having their best period of the game the home side struggled to crack a stern Irish defence. The nearest they came was in the 64th minute when it took a flying tackle by Paul Sackey to stop a certain try by Tom Voyce just three metres short of the Irish line.
Believing that the gap could be closed even further the Exiles tackled ferociously with the pack in the vanguard, no one more so than Kieron Dawson. The effort produced a modest return in terms of another penalty in the 65th minute that Mapletoft kicked from 45 meters.
A cut to Declan Danaher’s ear saw him leaving the field temporarily to be replaced by Kieran Roche. Adrian Flavin and Pierre Durant came on to add fresh impetus to the front row in place of Naka Drotske and Rob Hardwick respectively. Despite their efforts it was Wasps who imposed themselves as the game entered its final ten minutes. Van Gisbergen was to kick his fourth penalty in the 76th minute following Rob Hoadley’s sin-binning for killing the ball in the ruck. The home fly-half was to add another penalty in the 82nd minute to complete the scoring.
Irish finished the half pressing for that elusive try but it was not to be, the High Wycombe stadium continues to be a ground where Irish are still seeking a first victory.
London Irish’s Head Coach, Gary Gold was unhappy with the team’s performance. “We let ourselves down,” he said, “giving away penalties like we did is unacceptable. There was a lack of discipline on the pitch and yes, the guys have taken responsibility for it.”
Referee: W Barnes (RFU)