Ever wondered what rugby might look like without scrums, fans or fear of relegation? While we’ve become accustomed to empty stadiums since the restart, this was something altogether different at The Rec.
The ludicrous misfortune of Wasps losing four players to injuries inside 30 minutes was rivalled by the bizarre ‘Come on you Bath’ chants piped over the loudspeaker system or the sight of England scrum-half Dan Robson throwing into a lineout.
Lose, and Wasps’ hopes of reaching the play-offs would surely have been extinguished. Trailing by 13 points after a disastrous opening 10 minutes, that’s what appeared on the cards. When Jack Walker rumbled over to restore Bath’s lead in the last quarter, again, the writing was on the wall.
Yet somehow, with the odds heavily stacked against them, Wasps found a way to win. It took guts, bravery and a sprinkling of brilliance. Robson’s outrageous dummy for Jacob Umaga’s try was a touch of genius. Jack Willis’ breakdown work, which produced no fewer than five turnovers, the mark of a man playing at the peak of his powers. He now has 38 turnovers for the season from 14 games.
But more impressive than those moments of individual class was the combined defensive effort. On more than occasion the men in gold were forced to defend their line against a Bath forward pack that has made mincemeat of opponents since the restart. Bodies were put on the line for the cause.
Defending in their own 22 with 80 seconds remaining yet still having the desire to get in Bath’s faces force the error then grind out energy-sapping phases to see out the game.
Then there was the daring approach to attack. Epitomised by Robson’s late tap-and-go penalty and Umaga’s subsequent quick lineout. Wasps couldn’t rely on lineout ball, so they took it out of the equation. Bath were in a state of disarray and on the ropes before Tom West dotted down for the try.
Wasps were presented with problems and they came up with the answers. Even with Lima Sopoaga’s pass being spilt by Malakai Fekitoa to gift Ruaridh McConnochie a second-minute try in their minds, the willingness to think outside the box never left. In fact, they seemed to revel in the adversity.
It’s a win that has come at a cost. Gabriel Oghre and Tommy Taylor’s issues are unlikely to be quick fixes. Thomas Young and Sopoaga also suffered blows. They are already without influential tighthead Kieran Brookes (shoulder) and Thibaud Flament (foot) for the foreseeable future. Then there is the walking wounded. Players who went deep into their personal red zone to get Wasps over the line. Bruised and battered muscles have just four sleeps to recover before heading to Allianz Park on Saturday.
This victory was one for the ages, that will live long in memories. It gives Wasps a shot at something few could’ve predicted after winning just one of their opening six games of a season now in its 45th week.
Huge tests lie in wait at Saracens and Harlequins mixed in with the visits of Exeter Chiefs, Bristol Bears and Leicester Tigers to the Ricoh Arena. But six wins in seven games, securing 29 points from 35 available in the process isn’t a ‘spike’, it’s championship-winning form.
With five rounds remaining, Wasps’ play-off destiny is in their own hands.