Wasps claimed a much-needed win against Newcastle Falcons with a second-half fightback at Kingston Park.
The two returning players, Joe Launchbury and Alfie Barbeary, hit the ground running after six and eight weeks respectively on the sidelines, as Wasps overturned a 12-point half-time deficit to win by two points.
It wasn’t pretty. But crucially Lee Blackett’s side held their discipline after the break and conceded no further points to head home with a 20-18 victory courtesy of scores from Brad Shields and Tom West.
Here’s how our reporters rated the Wasps players out of ten for their performances at Kingston Park in the round 14 Gallagher Premiership match…
15. Rob Miller – 6
Managed the backfield well. Struggled to make an impact as an attacking weapon, but provided an extra playmaking option and distributed well. Made way for Minozzi on the hour mark.
14. Zach Kibirige – 7
Most dangerous he’s looked all for a while. Particularly in the second half, a few key involvements helped Wasps pull off a vital comeback. His 70 metres made was 22 more than any other player on the pitch.
Bounced off a few tacklers but was brought down agonisingly short of the line which led to the home side having a man sent to the bin. Will rue a poor drop after Gopperth released him on his right wing in the first-half, had he taken he could have had a potential 60-metre race for the line.
13. Malakai Fekitoa – 7
Good display. Saw far more of him with ball in hand than in recent weeks, just when his side needed him to step up. Up against two fellow powerful centres, opted to use his footwork frequently as opposed to his usual direct carrying.
Key strip on his own line to win back possession with his side under the cosh. You feel a big performance is around the corner for the Kiwi.
12. Michael Le Bourgeois – 7
Impressive comeback to side. Distributed effectively to bring Vailanu into the game early and deployed an effective low tackle technique to nullify the threat of the home sides’ centre partnership. On the receiving end of a man and ball crunching hit from the impressive Wacokecoke and carried bravely into contact in some congested areas.
Perhaps could’ve angled his run better to try and prevent Newcastle’s second try but Gopperth’s kick was undercooked.
11. Josh Bassett – 6
Went under the radar for large parts, but played his part. When called upon in defence was typically reliable, one tackle allowing Launchbury to get over the ball to win a turnover penalty.
Made a dart for the line on the half-hour mark, but couldn’t manage to dot the ball down and was adjudged to be held up by a last-ditch Falcons defensive effort.
Was composed when he appeared to have his eyes touched by Mateo Carreras.
10. Jimmy Gopperth – 7
Experience was key to grinding out a crucial win on the road. Exciting break brought about a penalty which enabled him to level the scores at three-all.
Uncharacteristically inconsistent kicking display with ball in hand, an attempted cross-kick was plucked from the air by Penny allowing him to race away and send Wacokecoke over.
But on the day he became the oldest starting Premiership fly-half, he kicked 10 crucial points as Newcastle were left to rue Joel Hodgson’s conversion that bounced off the post.
9. Sam Wolstenholme – 8
Seems to establish himself as the clear understudy to Dan Robson. Tried to inject some tempo with a quickly-tapped penalty early on, likewise with a free-kick at the scrum. Unfortunate to be pulled back looking to go quickly again early into the second half, looking to exploit a glaring overlap.
One slight lapse in decision making distributing when only a few metres out couldn’t find a runner, with multiple options to his left. Impressive game control with kicking game to direct his pack into the right areas of the field.
1. Ben Harris – 6
Steady game for the Yorkshireman. The early scrum issues didn’t appear to be on his side but Wasps did appear improved when Tom West arrived from the bench with 35 minutes to go.
2. Tommy Taylor – 6
His nuts and bolts of hooker play were tight and he weighed in with seven tackles before being replaced by Oghre shortly after half-time.. The disjointed nature of the first-half gave him few chances with ball in hand.
3. Jeff Toomaga-Allen – 6.5
The Kiwi recovered well from conceding an early scrum penalty, and he made a few key carries – often from static ruck ball. Showed off his hands again with a perfectly timed pass to put Bassett free down the left, although then conceded a free-kick against a 13-man scrum in a prime attacking position.
Played 74 minutes and contributed massively, but his scrummaging does remain an issue.
4. Joe Launchbury © – 8
Straight back to his influential best after a six-week layoff, and his 80-minute performance bodes well. Launchbury was industrious all over the pitch with 10 carries and 11 tackles, and he won a key turnover in the second half with Falcons pouring forward.
He can lift the team in a way few players can and he looked to have held up Falcons’ first try, but the referee had the best view and deemed it a score.
5. Will Rowlands – 7.5
Big performance that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Wales’ Grand Slam showdown. He weighed in with 13 tackles, disrupted Falcons’ set-piece and the lineout went smoothly when running through his hands.
Those hands also helped with Fekitoa’s key rip on Burrell close to Wasps’ line. Was penalised for one offence of not rolling away, but he was pinned in the clear out.
6. Brad Shields – 8.5*
Another Test-level display, his very well-taken try was a deserved reward for the way he imposed himself on the game.
Shields has filled in well as captain but being free of that seemed to lift him against the Falcons. He was replaced in the last ten minutes after a game-winning turnover with Barbeary.
7. Thomas Young – 8
Handy out in the wider channels, in attack especially and he put Bassett free down the flank early on. Grew into the game as it wore on and got a crucial maul steal as Falcons looked to have wrestled back momentum late-on.
Could’ve had a try but couldn’t latch onto a ball as he slightly mistimed his run, a knock-on Wasps’ might’ve rued.
8. Sione Vailanu – 7.5
The Tongan’s clearly determined to make up for lost time in a Wasps jersey. He was a one-man wrecking ball in a performance that was about more than just being big – he hit most of his carries at pace and his timing to do that was always impeccable.
You’re always going to get some rough with the smooth with Vailanu. One offload was intercepted in the first half, he was bailed out by a teammate after being stepped close to his own line and was replaced just six minutes after the break.
Wasps have been lacking a ball-carrying weapon in their pack lately. Suddenly, with Barbeary returning and Vailanu finding form – they have two.
The headline Wasps replacement coming into the game was Alfie Barbeary , and he certainly lived up to the hype. He picked up right where he left off and racked up 28 explosive metres from eight carries, and nearly had a try that would’ve completed his fairytale return.
He was matched in enthusiasm by Tom West who entered the fray with 35 minutes to go and immediately got stuck in, playing a key role in the run-up to Brad Shields’ try. He also helped Wasps turn the screw at scrum-time, and this duo were key in turning momentum back in Wasps’ favour in the second half.
Gabe Oghre also got a decent run and was solid, continuing the good lineout ball Wasps enjoyed (a welcome progression from previous weeks) after one early underthrow. Helped pull a Falcons maul into touch when they looked threatening. Jack Owlett and Theo Vukasinovic both came on with five minutes to go and helped see out the game.
Ben Vellacott steered the ship for the last 15 minutes and played a clinical game to keep Falcons in the areas where they couldn’t harm Wasps. One diagonal kick into the 22 was a moment of sublime game management.. Matteo Minozzi looked for work with a few good support lines but wasn’t unleashed, and Charlie Atkinson replaced Le Bourgeois with one minute to go.
16. Gabriel Oghre [for Taylor, 47’] – 6
17. Tom West [for Harris, 41’] – 8
18. Jack Owlett [for Toomaga-Allen, 74’] – n/a
19. Theo Vukasinovic [for Shields, 74’] – n/a
20. Alfie Babeary [for Vailanu, 47’] – 8
21. Ben Vellacott [for Wolstenholme, 65’] – 7
22. Charlie Atkinson [for Le Bourgeois, 79’) – N/A
23. Matteo Minozzi [for Miller, 60’] – 6