Wasps surrendered their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title after an inspired Bath sunk them at the Recreation Ground.
Wasps, Premiership title winners four times in the last six seasons, subsided following a poor goal-kicking display from fly-half Danny Cipriani. The former England number 10 missed four of his six shots at goal, 11 points going begging which would have made a telling difference.
Wasps’ latest away league defeat – they have not won on the road in the Premiership since late November – means they have no chance of making the play-off places.
South African World Cup winner Butch James booted 17 points, including the conversion of a second-half try by number eight Jonny Faamatuainu. And in stark contrast to Cipriani, James slotted six of his seven kicks as Bath climbed into third spot ahead of a mouth-watering home clash against new Premiership leaders Harlequins on Saturday.
The match was held up for nine minutes in the second half when Bath captain Michael Lipman suffered what appeared to be a serious neck injury. England international Lipman, who has suffered more than one bout of concussion this season, was carried off on a stretcher with his neck in a brace after requiring oxygen.
Wasps were firmly in contention at half-time, leading 11-9 thanks to a try by their England centre Riki Flutey, plus two Cipriani penalties, one from 50 metres. But there was no stopping Bath in the second period as James tightened his grip on the contest and Wasps were restricted to a late penalty from substitute Jeremy Staunton, who replaced Cipriani as kicker and fly-half with the England youngster moving to full-back.
Bath are now well placed to finish in the play-off spots and secure an all-important home semi-final next month. Two of their remaining three fixtures – against Quins and Saracens – are at the Recreation Ground, a venue where they last lost in the Premiership almost seven months ago to Gloucester.
Wasps fielded seven England internationals under the captaincy of former France international back-row star Serge Betsen. Bath, who knew a bonus-point victory would take them top, included ex-Bradford Bulls rugby league ace Shontayne Hape in midfield and made a confident start when James slotted a third-minute penalty.
Wasps were immediately under scrum pressure and there was an early injury scare when England flanker Joe Worsley required treatment for an ankle problem before a Cipriani penalty tied the score. But while Worsley was able to continue a bloodied Betsen was helped away for treatment which meant an early opportunity for another England man as Tom Rees replaced him temporarily.
Cipriani was well wide with a second kick at goal midway through the first half, but Bath – apart from a thrilling run by the Premiership’s top try scorer this season Joe Maddock – found it tough to penetrate Wasps’ defence. It proved an inevitably bruising encounter up front, yet Wasps’ powerful work around the forward fringes with Worsley and lock Simon Shaw prominent meant they shaded a territorial battle.
Betsen returned following a 16-minute absence and was soon pressed into defensive duty when Bath hooker Lee Mears stormed upfield and only narrowly failed to find his support runners in the shadow of Wasps’ posts.
A second James penalty inched Bath 6-3 ahead but Wasps conjured the game’s opening try five minutes before the break. Cipriani drifted possession away from contact, allowing Dominic Waldouck to cut an attacking angle to devastating effect as Flutey finished off in emphatic fashion.
That put Wasps 8-6 ahead and it should have been more, but Cipriani missed a simple conversion attempt before making a mockery of that blunder by rifling over a 50-metre penalty. Bath needed to regroup and as the interval approached James completed his penalty hat-trick, cutting the deficit to 11-9 and setting up an intriguing second period as Wasps trooped off with Cipriani having missed another penalty opportunity.