Jimmy Gopperth rose from the bench to secure a bonus-point 34-30 win for Wasps against Newcastle Falcons and ensure Dai Young’s side will start 2017 leading Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Wasps have scored more tries than any other Aviva Premiership Rugby side this season, but it was Dean Richards’ outfit who had gone over for two tries in five minutes thanks to Sonatane Takulua and Marcus Watson.
Danny Cipriani got Wasps back into contention with a chip-and-chase score after 21 minutes before Christian Wade gave Young’s men an unlikely lead a minute later when he was first to a Dan Robson kick.
But the momentum shifted again in Falcons’ favour, when Rob Vickers went over from close range and stand-off Joel Hodgson added a penalty.
Wasps showing the kind of bottle you need to be champions come May. You can see why the Falcons are filling Kingston Park this season.
— Nick Mullins (@andNickMullins) December 30, 2016
Wasps had a final first-half salvo left through Thomas Young, with Cipriani’s conversion taking them to 22-21 at the break before his injury replacement Gopperth made an immediate impact with a converted try after 46 minutes.
Gopperth and Hodgson traded penalties, before Elliot Daly fired over a long-range penalty and the inspirational Mark Wilson scored Falcons’ bonus-point try.
It was the most breathless start at Kingston Park, Richards’ side gaining possession and full-back Alex Tait plucked a fine line to carve through the unsuspecting Wasps defence before shifting the ball to Takulua for the score.
Hodgson missed the conversion, but from the ensuing conversion the ball was allowed to bounce and Olympic silver medallist Watson collected the bobbling ball before hitting top speed in a flash and then hitch-kicking past the flat-footed Rob Miller.
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) December 30, 2016
A try-saving tackle from Opeti Fonua was followed swiftly by a superb rip on Kyle Eastmond by Takulua, with the Wasps centre over the line and a score seemingly certain.
Cipriani made the most of a ragged Newcastle defence to score Wasps’ first try of the evening after 20 minutes.
Falcons had set off on a counter deep in their own territory through Fonua, but when he found Watson, the winger’s offload went astray and as the ball was moved wide for Wasps, Cipriani spotted space, chipped in behind and scored a memorable individual score, which he converted.
In another flurry of action, Wade got Wasps’ second a moment later. Daly broke from deep, shifted to Robson and when the scrum-half put a kick ahead, Wade was first to the bouncing ball.
Cipriani’s conversion took Wasps ahead for the first time after 23 minutes, but Falcons were undimmed, coming straight back into the game after capitalising on a Wasps’ knock-on in their 22.
Fonua was again prominent as Falcons flooded forward before Vickers went over after a series of pick and goes, with Hodgson converting.
Hodgson extended the lead to 22-14 on 33 minutes after Eastmond was penalised for a dangerous tackle, but Young hit a plum short line off Robson to punch over for Wasps on 40 minutes, with Cipriani knocking the conversion over before leaving the field at half-time with an ankle injury.
A Fonua knock on had gifted Wasps possession just after the break and Gopperth finished smartly after six minutes of the first half, before his conversion took the visitors 28-22 ahead.
Hodgson pulled three points back with a penalty, but Gopperth replied two minutes later and despite Josh Bassett being sinbinned for a deliberate knock on, Falcons could not make their man advantage count.
Instead it was England centre Daly who thumped over a long-range penalty on 65 minutes, which took Wasps beyond a converted score.
Takulua had one lively break and the indefatigable Wilson bashed through the Wasps defence for a deserved score to set up a tight finish.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) December 30, 2016