Wasps director of rugby Dai Young admitted his side were hanging on for dear life at the end of a scintillating Aviva Premiership Rugby derby victory over Leicester Tigers.
The league leaders closed the match out to win 22-16, but had built up a 19-point advantage with only half an hour played after scores for Christian Wade, Tommy Taylor and Dan Robson
But the Tigers fought their way back into the contest thanks to a Peter Betham try and the boots of Owen Williams and Freddie Burns – threatening a memorable comeback as they got within three points.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) January 8, 2017
But after Dan Cole saw yellow, the ice-cool Jimmy Gopperth’s late penalty secured the victory for the hosts and helped them leapfrog Saracens to top the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings once more.
“In the first half, we came out of the blocks, got some quick ball to play off and we were probably disappointed that we didn’t come away with some more points on the board,” said Young.
“Then we got a bit loose, were trying little chip kicks when we didn’t need to, and once you give a team like Leicester a bit of momentum, it’s very hard to snatch it back.
“I thought we were in total control in the first half, when we left a lot of points out there, then pretty much hanging on for dear life in the last 10 minutes.
“It’s nice sitting here being top and still a bit disappointed in how we are playing. There are lots of good things, but lots we can improve on as well.”
— Nathan Hughes 🏉 (@NateWJHughes) January 9, 2017
Elsewhere, Northampton Saints edged out the resurgent Bristol Rugby 32-26, denying the bottom side a third win in as many weeks in another enthralling encounter a Franklin’s Gardens.
The Saints outscored their opponents by four tries to two but Bristol fly-half Jason Woodward scored 21 of his side’s points to keep them in the game, and nothing could separate the teams with 20 minutes remaining.
However fit-again Harry Mallinder’s late drop goal settled matters, handing the Saints a third successive Aviva Premiership Rugby clash in a row for the first time since March, to the delight of Teimana Harrison.
“To say it was a hard match is an understatement,” said the flanker, who saw teammates Louis Picamoles, Mike Haywood, Tom Wood and JJ Hanrahan earn the Saints a try-bonus point.
“They came at us and got some good tries, but I’m very proud of the boys because we dug in and ground out the result.
“These [last three] haven’t been the prettiest of wins, but we’ll take it. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for us.”
Reigning champions Saracens had a late Titi Lamositele try to thank as they rescued a 13-13 draw with Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park in a rematch of last year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby final.
Saracens played with 14 men for all but ten minutes after Richard Barrington’s red card, and when Jack Nowell went over soon after it looked a long road back, but Lamositele went over from a maul and Alex Lozowski kicked the conversion to rescue two points.
Newcastle Falcons turned in another superb performance at Kingston Park, with Niki Goneva, Mark Wilson and Ben Harris going over as Dean Richards’ men staged a comeback from 22-10 down for their sixth win of the season.
Despite two more Denny Solomona tries, Sale Sharks fell to a 29-26 loss against Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop as their nine-game losing streak in all competitions continues.
And flanker Jacob Rowan was left delighted after his try-scoring shift as Gloucester Rugby dismantled Worcester Warriors 55-19 at Kingsholm.
Matt Scott scored twice, while Rowan, John Afoa, Charlie Sharples, Jonny May and Josh Hohneck all crossed as David Humphreys’ side moved eighth in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
And openside Rowan said that a lean festive period, in which the Cherry & Whites lost to Harlequins at Twickenham and Northampton Saints instigated the explosive victory.
“We were thrilled with the performance against Worcester – it was a much happier changing room then it was last week,” the 26-year-old said.
“The results over the festive period really helped fuel the win. I don’t think it was expected to pull off a result like that, because if you look at them, then you know they are a good team with some great players.”
— Ben Vellacott (@BenjiVellacott9) January 7, 2017
Newcastle Falcons 24 Bath Rugby 22
Tries: Goneva, Wilson, Harris
Cons: Hodgson 3
Tries: Ford, Rokoduguni 2
Cons: Ford 2
Referee: Greg Garner
Attendance: 6, 042
Saracens 13 Exeter Chiefs 13
Pens: Lozowski 2
Pens: Steenson 2
Referee: Ian Tempest
Northampton Saints 32 Bristol Rugby 26
Tries: Haywood, Wood, Picamoles, Hanrahan
Cons: Myler 3
Tries: Eadie, Woodward
Cons: Woodward 2
Pens: Woodward 4
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Gloucester Rugby 55 Worcester Warriors 19
Tries: May, Scott 2, Rowan, Afoa, Sharples, Hohneck
Cons: Laidlaw 3, Twelvetrees 4
Pens: Laidlaw, Burns
Tries: Vuna, Cavubati, Fa’osiliva
Cons: Mills 2
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Harlequins 29 Sale Sharks 26
Tries: Walker, Swiel
Cons: Swiel 2
Pens: Swiel 5
Tries: Solomona 2, McGuigan
Pens: Addison 3
Referee: JP Doyle
Wasps 22 Leicester Tigers 16
Tries: Wade, Taylor, Robson
Conversions: Gopperth 2
Penalties: O Williams 2, Burns 2
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys