Ceiron Thomas inspired Leeds to victory for the second successive match as the hosts added further credibility to their campaign for Guinness Premiership survival.
Thomas’ assured and accurate first-half kicking display put the hosts on course for their first home win in the top flight since March 2008, despite Danny Cipriani’s converted try.
Wasps survived a period down to 14 men after Ben Broster’s sin-binning. But a flurry of second-half penalties allowed Thomas to guide Leeds to their fourth win of the season with an 18-point haul, as Wasps struggled to contain Leeds’ abrasive pack.
The home side’s victory was given extra garnish with Hendrie Fourie’s late try and Joe Ford’s penalty. Although it was not enough to move them off the bottom of the table, the victory over play-off chasing Wasps enhances an atmosphere of optimism at Headingley.
Leeds, who beat Wasps at Adams Park earlier in the season, made three changes after their morale-boosting win over Sale. Scrum-half Scott Mathie deputised for the injured Andy Gomarsall, while Kearnan Myall replaced Northampton-bound Calum Clark in the back row and Henry Paul came in to the centres. For Wasps Dan Leo returned to the second row with England Saxons centre Dominic Waldouck back on the bench after injury. Wing Paul Sackey missed out through illness with David Lemi starting.
The hosts controlled the early territory and possession with some robust running from Seru Rabeni and Andy Titterrell and accurate kicking from Ceiron Thomas. They were aided by some ordinary clearance kicking and lineout throwing from Wasps.
But for all Leeds’ attritional work the scores remained locked until a mighty tackle from Rabeni drove second row Leo back and Leeds won the penalty for failing to release in the 17th minute. And Thomas, on the back of a match-winning performance against Sale, kicked the penalty from just inside the 10-metre line.
Wasps responded with their first venture into the opponents’ 22 but their efforts were undermined again with more poor lineout work. And Leeds extended their lead nine minutes later. Some shoddy defence from Tom Varndell and Cipriani led to an offside penalty for Leeds, which Thomas duly kicked.
But Cipriani atoned minutes later as he kept pace with Lemi’s audacious counter-attack from his own 22 and the fly-half was on hand to finish the move. He brushed off the chorus of boos that greeted his swan-dive over the line and added the extras.
The game, though, swung again a minute before the break. Wasps prop Ben Broster was sin-binned for knocking the ball away when Leeds were pushing for a try and Thomas converted a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
Leeds went further ahead as Thomas’ penalty from long range and a tight angle crept over the bar. Despite being a man down, Wasps reduced the deficit with a penalty early in the second half from Cipriani.
Leeds had the chance to extend the gap again with a sustained period in Wasps’ 22. And, although strong Wasps repelled the opportunity of a try defence, another Thomas penalty gave them a five-point lead on the scoreboard with 25 minutes remaining.
Cipriani missed a long-range kick to keep pace with their opponents and by now Wasps were beginning to haemorrhage penalties. And they were punished further from a crumbling scrum in front of the posts as the ever-accurate Thomas stroked over another three points.
Thomas was lining up penalty number seven from the same spot moments later. But for once the fly-half missed the target. And Leeds grabbed the decisive try with nine minutes remaining.
Thomas kicked a penalty deep into Wasps territory and Leeds set up a driving maul, from which Fourie stole round the blindside and raced over the line. Thomas failed to added the conversion. Youngster Joe Ford replaced Thomas and he kicked a late penalty as Leeds savoured another potentially momentous win.