Barnet Elizabethans Away
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
It would be fair to say that Wasps began their week with a fair bit of trepidation. After a hard fought victory the previous weekend against an enthusiastic St Alban’s team, making it three wins on the bounce and a maximum 15 points haul, they had proved that their recent success was no flash-in-the-pan. That week had been all about one thing - setting a marker.
Having achieved this, it would be safe to assume a level of buoyancy would be in the air and that the club could begin to enjoy the fruits of two hard season’s labour in Herts & Middlesex 1. Unfortunately, those three games had come at a cost and the squad was well depleted. Many players enduring injuries from the past month’s exertions. So much so that the club’s inaugural ‘Injury Club’ was held at Costa Coffee by Ealing Common on Tuesday (7pm if anyone’s interested). If last week was about setting a marker, this week was to be ‘strength in depth’.
So Tuesday and Thursday were used effectively by the coaching staff, ensuring every possible preparation was made for what would turn out to be a frustrating display of rugby away at Barnet Elizabethans.
With the rugby Gods seemingly absent for the day, at least their weather counterparts blessed us with a reminder of their hard work this summer as a new-look Wasps team rolled into the sun-drenched carpark. The determined focus of the week continued as the boys left the changing room, working well on their pre-game routines, practicing set pieces and talking with a new confidence that comes with winning ways. And with renewed confidence comes renewed expectations; the travelling support and staff were exuberant in their cheers as the game kicked off in the North London sun.
Old habits die hard. The opening quarter of the game did not go the way Wasps had hoped and they soon found themselves 12-0 down. An unwanted trait of coughing the ball up after good spells of possession was thought to have been relegated to last season, however spirited attack was let down by basic ball protection and Barnet were able to capitalise. On the 8-minute mark their centre was put through an easy gap to go unopposed under the posts before their number 16 took control of a loose ball in his own 22, kicked through and miraculously gathered to score at the other end despite numerous attempts by Wasps to retrieve the bouncing ball. Conceding two relatively weak tries would certainly have been enough to sink the same team last season.
Luckily this score shocked the players into life and they came out with a renewed energy from the restart, pressure built up by consistent work at the breakdown from the forwards, picking and going with a running line that had been worked on in training. On the 22nd minute that pressure cracked the Barnet defence as Wasps’ number 12, Lucien Campbell-Taylor, took a short ball off the fly-half from 15 meters out that penetrated the defensive line and allowed him to dot down untouched under the posts. What followed was a first ever conversion attempt from the unlikely boot of the number 8, Elliott Fowler-Marsh. Having lived in his brother’s shadow for the past two seasons, he needed a point of difference in order to stand out, after all. His first kick was successful, and Wasps pulled the score back to 12-7.
After the initial flurry of exchanges on the score board, the game saw a period of good initial work from Wasps in the first two thirds of the pitch but a somewhat infuriating ability to lose focus in the last, allowing errors to disrupt any hope of a flowing and high-scoring first half. Mistakes weren’t solely reserved for the visiting team however, as the few skirmishes Barnet had into the final third were also blighted by inaccuracy.
A keen feature of the team’s play this year has been a dominant scrum, and if anything was going to break this deadlock of monotony, it was going to be just that. Having managed to gain the put in inside the home side’s twenty-two line, the Wasps pack looked to press home this advantage. After huge pressure, and despite some glaringly obvious unlawful work from the opposition that went unpunished, Fowler-Marsh was able to pick and drive the ball over the line from half a metre out. The try was unconverted, levelling the game at 12-12 on the 33rd minute.
Unfortunately, the somewhat comforting note of a tied scoreboard was quickly taken away from the boys and, in what was to become a repeating pattern of the match, Wasps would score a try, only for Barnet to reply in kind shortly after. Directly from the restart, another badly protected ball was stripped from Wasps’ possession, the mistake compounded by defending that was, to put it politely, non-existent. The missed tackles doing nothing more than carving a pathway for Barnet to follow on their way to the try line. The conversion making it 19-12 after 36 minutes.
The second half offered much of the same, flashes of good work contrasted with glaring errors, making for a hugely hit and miss 39 minutes.
Wasps were able to attack the scrum in the one aspect of the game which they were truly dominating (see @waspsfc on Instagram for more), and 5 minutes into the half another sustained scrimmage rumbled over the line allowing Fowler-Marsh to claim his second push over try of the day. Unconverted, 19-17.
True to form, Barnet came back on the 52nd minute mark. Bad lineout work on their own ball dislodged Wasps of possession in their own half and a lack of aggression in defence, mixed with more woeful tackling, was to put them on the back foot again as Barnet crossed for their bonus point try.
The reply was swift and this time came from attractive running rugby that had been somewhat void for much of Wasps' performance. Barnet’s tendency to go wide early in defence was finally exploited when pocket-sized scrum half, Fraysure Coupland, sniped through the middle of the breakdown. Running clean-in on goal, he was unfortunately caught by a more cumbersome second row which he would blame, later on that night, on being injured…despite playing the full 80 minutes. However, his quick thinking did give Wasps the momentum needed, and with two well worked pick and go’s, the defence was suitably scrambled for the number 10 to put their young Serbian international, Bojan Celery, in for the bonus point 4th try. Unable to bring them level with the conversion attempt, the visitors still trailed, 24-22 with 23 minutes left on the clock.
Of those 23 minutes, the first 22 were possibly the least interesting minutes of rugby played by the 1st team so far this season. Both teams milked the teat of mundanity as error after error stacked up. For the side line it was akin to watching a young relative in a school play; you’re definitely doing it purely for the love!
If the previous 22 minutes were forgettable, the last one could be described as biblical. Both in its unbelievable nature, and in its retelling of the story of an entity resurrected from the apparent clinches of death.
Knowing the clock was again them, and chasing the game into the later stages, a sudden onslaught of continuity surfaced among the forward pack of the West London visitors. As the 78th minute was breached, the forwards had, through hard graft and determination, positioned the ball deep into Barnet’s end zone. The home side, determined to slow the ball down against the onrushing tide of the forwards fringe work, desperately defended their line. But as the pressure mounted, dogged defence turned into illegal play and a penalty was awarded in Wasps favour.
Not all heroes wear capes, and not all heroes wear tight fitting lycra. The hero in our story certainly was not in a cape and there was no lycra in sight, much to the delight of everyone on the field that day. Because Hugo Lewis is not your normal superhero. His pallid complexion and body shape are nostalgic of a sealed bag of milk, the only time he gets a sweat on is when he does stairs two steps at a time and if you were being attacked in the street, he’d more likely film it then come to your aid. But in this moment, he was Wasps’ hero.
Knowing he had the advantage, and with the ball in his doughy hands, he dummied a drop kick one way stepped past his man, stepped back into the pocket and let fire. Time seemed to stand still. Till this day people are unsure whether the stretched time effect was due to the importance of the kick, or simply because it was the worst struck and slowest drop kick ever witnessed by human eyes. Either way, the ball was going. Flopping in an ugly arch towards the right post. Barely scaling the crossbar, the ball struck against the upright and majestically squelched over for a 3 point gain. For the first time in 79 minutes, Wasps were ahead, 24-25.
All that was left now was to close out the game with a bit of lion-hearted and intelligent rugby. Unfortunately, what followed was a hair-raising minute of calamity as Wasps again forgot how to defend. Luckily, however, the last mistake fell on Barnet as they tried to force the win and threw a forward pass.
To surmise, a game with some entertaining moments, some large lulls in activity, mistakes abundant on both sides with a moment of pure rugby drama at the end. The scrum was a highlight for the visitor’s performance - a rich sauce on top of an average meal.
Winning ugly is still a win however, and it shows the incredible bond that is growing down at Twyford Avenue. The boys who played stayed in the fight long enough to snatch a win and in doing so have banished the mindset of seasons gone by. The strength in depth won the day and that’s something to be extremely proud of.
Next weekend will be another stern test as They welcome Hendon to the Nest. Kick off 3pm on Saturday, please get down to support the team as your presence is hugely appreciated and needed by all.