Chris Boyd’s Northampton Saints defeat Wasps despite a second-half comeback to edge out the home side 35-31 in a thrilling encounter.
A competitive game with lots going on, here are the five main talking points from Saints’ bonus-point win.
Final score : Wasps Rugby 31-35 Northampton Saints
Saints super pack
Wasps suffered a blow before the game had even kicked off when Captain and pack leader Joe Launchbury withdrew due to illness. Thibaud Flament stepped up and had a great game for Wasps but they lacked the England international’s experience when dealing with the Saints pack.
From the off the visitors were physical and fronted up to the hosts. Tiemana Harrison and co carried well and proved a force to deal with at times with Saints making yards to give their backs the platform to play off.
That physicality continued throughout the game. Most importantly, on multiple occasions when Wasps were camped on the Saints line.
"Massively proud of the boys, we showed massive character to dig in!"
Teimana Harrison reflects on an incredible game and a massive win for @SaintsRugby 👊
Statement made. pic.twitter.com/UQkygwVPo3
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 5, 2020
This proved crucial given the result as this relentless intensity and patience in defense held out Wasps to allow them to be clinical when they got down the other end of the field.
Battle of Tens
The Ricoh saw an interesting match up at fly-half with young Jacob Umaga facing up against one of the world’s best in Dan Biggar.
Biggar showed his class throughout, not doing anything overly special but managed the game well. It was his vision to spot the gap and hit it for his break that created Cobus Reinach’s first try giving a simple two on one. the high ball was a key component for both sides today and, as ever, Biggar was great from the boot and under the ball.
Umaga is proving to live up to the hype around him and the pressure his name brings. It was again another solid performance from the 21-year-old before he had to leave the field after the collision with Tom Collins. He held his own against the Saints defense, drawing men in as he attacked the line allowing space out wide for the likes of Marcus Watson and Zach Kibirige. His kicking from the tee was on point with some tough efforts from the touchline.
His selection ahead of Lima Sopoaga, who was spotted kicking goals beforehand. This suggests his absence was not injury related, shows the quality that the youngster can provide and if he keeps this progress going he will be a valuable player for Wasps.
Wasps looked to be on course for a second victory in as many weeks when Umaga was taken out by Collins after the former jumped highest. However, it was a 50-50 call for Matthew Carley as the Saints winger appeared to have his eyes on the ball but was clumsy to not identify where the Wasps player would be.
Wasps only managed to score their penalty try during the period when Saints had 13 men which is where the match was truly won. Saints controlled the ball from then on to get the crucial score.
Carley’s officiating was not to the pleasing of the Coventry crowd as Saints should have perhaps had a red for a Saints shoulder to a Wasp head and Collins was perhaps only a yellow.
Northampton Saints defeat Wasps
However, the referee can’t be to blame for Wasps ill-discipline late on which cost them field position causing the Taqele Naiyaravoro try with four minutes to go. Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young shared his thoughts on the officiating post-match, saying:
“These things happen in rugby. It’s unfortunate.
” It was the right decision and he gave it. No qualms with that. I don’t think Northampton would be too upset with that. I try and be fair, if the shoe was on the other foot you would accept it.”
Wasps Rugby 31-35 Northampton Saints: Fine margins
When Wasps look back at Sunday’s game they will see it could’ve easily gone their way had the luck fallen to them and not the visitors.
The first moment that proved to be key was when Thomas Young stole the ball from a loose lineout in the Saints 22 and charged for the line. The Welsh flanker carried three defenders towards the line but was not able to ground the ball as it got caught underneath his arm.
A full seven point score instead of the three from Umaga’s boot would have changed the approach to the game with Wasps made to chase down and comeback early one.
Secondly, Saints early score in the second half was the worst possible way to mount a comeback. Dan Robson had caught a couple of players offside earlier in the game with a dummy as he was about to box kick. However, it proved one too many as it perhaps needed a simple routine to clear their lines immediately from the kickoff.
Young spoke about these fine margins that have cost Wasps on a number of occasions this season, saying:
“This just shows how tight this league is. Going into it we were two from bottom, they were two from the top, so it shows there’s not much in this league. This season is going to be like that right through.
” Most teams can beat each other and if you’re slightly off, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to lose. Frustrated we didn’t win, really pleased we found a way back into the game, disappointed with that 40-60 period has caused us problems, we’ve got to keep working at it.”
Wasps coming close once again
It has been a tough season to take for Wasps with those fine margins costing them on multiple occasions. Wasps would have expected to win two men to the good and with a three point lead, taking nothing away from Saints resilience, and should have.
Wasps have struggled to close out games and need to look to improve that game management and not get drawn into frantic finishes. Narrowly coming out on the wrong side of these games has seen the Coventry based side in an early relegation scrap but boss Young isn’t worrying about that yet.
“I think it’s a bit early to be thinking like that, but if we’re in it, there’s five or six other teams in it as well.” said Young.
Wasps suffered one of their worst finishes in recent years as they finished 8th last season but Young is hopeful that his teams can overcome these fine margins.
“For me, I would be very surprised if we don’t get to five or six games left in the season and in a similar position to where we were last season. I don’t mean just us, teams around us were one win away from being in the top six, and one loss away from being in the relegation zone.
“With four or five games to go, you’re going to have four or five teams who are very close. One win away from looking up the table and down. There’s nothing in it and it will go right to the wire.’ Young said.
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