Wasps made it four wins from their opening four games for the first time in 20 years to top the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings on Saturday, and director of rugby Dai Young admits their flying start has left him pleasantly surprised.
Josh Bassett’s late try sealed a 20-15 triumph over Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, but in truth they were made to work very hard for their win by their hosts.
Despite dominating in terms of territory, Saints found themselves behind at half-time after Jimmy Gopperth’s superb breakaway score and penalty cancelled out George North’s early try.
And despite countless opportunities for Northampton, another Gopperth penalty and Bassett’s effort on 79 minutes meant Tom Kessell’s sniping try when Nathan Hughes was sin-binned was no more than a consolation.
And Young was the first to admit that they had won the game with resolute defence rather than the expansive, free-flowing rugby that fans have come to expect from the men in black and gold.
“I think for a big part of the game we were up against it,” he said. “We certainly didn’t win that game on structure and being smart. We won that game on togetherness and heart.
“We found a way to win and that shows a lot of character within this team, we certainly didn’t play anything like we would have liked before the game. We were second best in a lot of areas, but we stuck together and found a way to win.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the start, if you had offered me this before the start of the season I would have certainly taken it.
“It has gone far better than even I could have hoped. Naturally, there’s going to be a bump along the road somewhere and it will be about how we handle that.
“We didn’t play well today, defensively we rode our luck on occasions and we were loose with the ball. We are going to have to be better next week [against Harlequins], because you can’t always rely on the bit of luck that we got today.”
The bulk of the game was spent inside Wasps’ red zone, but despite all of Northampton’s pressure – they set up countless driving mauls, scrums and lineouts on the five-metre line – chance after chance slipped through their fingers.
And while there were huge positives to take in terms of the performances of George North and Harry Mallinder, director of rugby Jim Mallinder admits they need to work harder during the week with two home defeats from two so far this season.
“Wasps are a side who can score from anywhere and we saw that,” he said. “We were really dominant in the first half and we should have scored maybe three or four times.
“We worked hard to get into their third, but we just couldn’t finish it.
“Likewise in the second half, when we got into their 22 and I looked at the screen and saw we had a four on one walk-in if we’d got the ball out.
“I can’t complain about a lack of passion or effort – we worked really hard and we’re disappointed not to win that game.
“It’s life isn’t it? It doesn’t always goes the way you want. We had enough possession to win, but we didn’t and we’ve just got to keep going.
“We know we’re a good side. We’ve come up against two top teams [at home] and come close, but not close enough.
“It’s not a case of working harder, it’s a case of being a little bit more accurate and just those couple of finer points would make a massive difference.”
Northampton Saints: Foden (Tuala 64), K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North, Myler, Groom (Kessell 67), A Waller, Haywood, Brookes (Hill 64), Lawes, Dickinson (Paterson 54), Wood, Gibson (Harrison 54), Picamoles (Clare 69)
Replacements not used: Ma’afu, Hutchinson
Wasps: Miller, Wade, Daly, Gopperth, Bassett, Cipriani (Eastmond 45), Simpson (Robson 52), Mullan (McIntyre 52), Taylor (Johnson 61), Cooper-Woolley (Moore 52), Symons (Myall 61), Gaskell (Symons 62), Jones, Thompson (Young 61), Hughes
Replacement not used: De Luca
Tries: North, Kessell
Tries: Gopperth, Bassett
Cons: Gopperth 2
Pens: Gopperth 2
Referee: Luke Pearce