Watford Off Bottom
Watford turned in a committed, determined performance to beat Wasps and gain a measure of revenge for a 75 point hammering earlier in the season.
Whilst hugely disappointing, the narrow loss at Sarries the week before had shown us that we are certainly able to compete at this level. The squad had a settled look about it, fingers crossed the injury and unavailability issues which had dogged the club before Christmas were now a thing of the past.
Based on the previous match, we knew what to expect from our visitors. A heavyweight pack stacked with ball carriers who would be looking to make yardage around the fringes of the breakdown. We weren’t disappointed.
Despite a focussed warm up, Watford started the slower of the two sides and were perhaps guilty of showing too much respect to our opponents. As expected, Wasps looked to use their ball carriers early on with the visitors loosehead prop showing up prominently in the loose. We were soon a try down, a series of missed tackles giving the men in black a relatively soft first score.
In previous matches going behind would have seen Watford crumble, thankfully this wasn’t the case. The home team showed that Wasps weren’t the only side to enjoy the more physical aspects of the game, Watford sending their own ball carriers hurtling into contact time after time. It was from a lineout that Watford registered our opener. A rolling maul ground to a halt, the ball working is way to Holloway who was hauled down just short. Good support work from Appleton saw the flanker pick and feed Josh for a well worked, simple finish.
Wasps came back strongly to enjoy a concerted period of pressure, Watford showing the work on defensive patterns during the week had not been wasted. We did well to repel a series of attacks, one last ditch tackle from Josh being the highlight of an extended defensive shift from 1 to 15. Unfortunately the pressure did eventually cause the Watford dam to crack, 7 points to Wasps.
The home side came back strongly, slight issues at the scrum were addressed and the set piece was back providing its usual supply of clean ball for the backline. The Wasps line started to creak, Watford identifying space on the blindside just inside the away sides half. In a pleasing display of heads up rugby. Jamesy passed to Clenners who in turn fed Roelfy. The next pass found Martin, who released speedster Upton. Jack then proceeded to show exactly why he is in the first team at such a tender age, showing a frightening turn of pace to race away from desperate Wasps cover. With the full back to beat and barely a yard of space available, the winger turned the last man inside-out to score an outstanding first try for the 1st XV. It was particularly pleasing to see three forwards look to shift the ball in the build-up rather than ‘stick it up the jumper’.
Realising that we looked to have the edge out wide, Watford spread the ball immediately from the re-start to make inroads towards the visitors 10m line. With forwards and backs linking up superbly, the ball found its way to Josh who showed a clean pair of heels to score his second in the corner.
The fourth score came before half time, Jamesy finding Roelfy loitering with intent on the wing. The prop had clearly been inspired by Upton’s earlier score, throwing a dummy to buy himself some space before showing the cover defence a clean pair of heels. With one man to beat, everyone eagerly looked forward to what was sure to be an almighty collision. Instead, JR put in an early audition for this year’s Strictly showcasing the deftest of sidesteps to score a fine solo try and bring up the bonus point.
Half time came and the side were on a high. Wasps appeared to be rattled, clearly not expecting such a spirited Watford performance whilst we were confident in our own and each other’s ability to see this one out.
The second period began in the same way the first had ended. Watford were in the ascendancy, pressurising Wasps at the lineout and looking to utilise our dangerous strike runners at every opportunity. Wilkinson missed with a long-range penalty, however the scoreboard was not to remain untroubled for long. A penalty was put into the corner, the Watford rolling maul well halted by the big Wasps pack. We didn’t rush, and worked the phases to inch inexorably closer to the line before the ball was released to the backs, finding Dunners cutting a lovely line to dot down. Once more, no extras but we were now 25-12 up and had a bit of breathing space.
Wasps continued to throw everything at Watford, scoring their third try after some uncharacteristically weak tackles in the middle of the park resulted in us conceding 7 points, a reminder to us that the game is never over until the final whistle is blown. The visitors continued to apply pressure until some over eagerness at the breakdown enabled us to relive pressure with a clearing kick to our own 10m line. No one could have guessed what was to follow… Hammill broke through the lineout, making good ground then offloading to Martin who barrelled down the touchline before being dragged to the floor. From the ensuing ruck, the ball went through multiple pairs of hands before finding Holloway in the wide channels. Sam did what he does best, handing off two would be tacklers before offloading to Josh for the full backs well-deserved hat trick. One of our tries of the season (check out the highlights when available, words don’t do it justice) and also a wonderful touchline conversion from the hat-trick hero.
Unfortunately, this was to be as good as it got for Watford. With 20 minutes to go, we somehow conspired to do our best to throw the game away. Holloway saw yellow for a debatable dangerous tackle, Wasps taking advantage to score their 4th try of the afternoon and register a deserved bonus point of their own. Now within 9 points and 15 minutes still on the clock, things went from bad to worse with Appleton seeing yellow for a seemingly innocuous breakdown offence. Wasps continued to pile on the pressure, and just as Holloway returned to the field Dunlop was sent from it after a late tackle. 13 men left on the field, a shade under ten minutes remaining and a Wasps team playing with renewed purpose. Step up the remaining 13, skipper Hammill leading by example with some bone crunching hits, every player throwing themselves into contact determined to ensure the Watford whitewash remained un-breached. In the face of such committed defence, Wasps eventually knocked on bringing an enthralling contest to a close and handing Watford their first win of 2018.
MOTM – Adam Hancock. Out of position at hooker, solid all round contribution.
WOTW – Holloway, nominated Matt due to driving. Yellow card.
*Note – special mention to the Wasps MOTM who necked a pint in frighteningly quick fashion.
Week off now, back in action away to Bank on the 27th before a metaphorical 10 pointer at home to fellow strugglers London French.