A 36-29 victory over Exeter Chiefs at the Ricoh Arena kept Wasps in the title race. It also showcased some thrilling moments from the Premiership's most exciting side.
As a glorious Sunday afternoon for Wasps extended into evening, news broke that the club would be launching a retail bond listed on the London Stock Exchange. According to chief executive David Armstrong, the decision could see as much as £35 million raised by next season.
Should such a projection come to fruition, the Ricoh Arena side would usurp Toulouse to become the richest club in the world. For an outfit that was facing liquidation in 2009, it is a remarkable reversal in financial fortunes.
Genial director of rugby Dai Young had his tongue firmly in cheek in October when he noted how his weekly shop was now a Marks & Spencer affair rather than a whip round Lidl. However, the Welshman will soon be among the biggest spenders.
Complementing this imminent prosperity, James Haskell’s charges have condemned the desperate relegation battle of three years ago to a distant memory. Two regular rounds remain in the regular Premiership campaign and they can still make the play-offs. A win over Leicester Tigers in Coventry on May 9 puts them fourth.
As the division’s top try-scorers, Wasps are rarely far from producing a moment of pure brilliance. Rather appropriately, their squad is full of what Stuart Lancaster calls ‘something from nothing’ players – essentially mightily exciting performers who can conjure an instant of match-turning excellence.
Though honest graft up front was integral too, this weekend’s crucial 36-29 victory over Exeter Chiefs featured four such moments. Let’s have a look.
A fabulous flick from Nathan Hughes
Back from a rather ludicrous suspension, Nathan Hughes needed precisely one minute and a single scrum to assert himself. Standing six feet five tall and weighing almost 20 stone, the Fiji-born 23 year-old qualifies to represent England early next year but could easily cope with the Test arena right now.
The reverse angle tells us that this set-piece begins in a rather innocuous position:
However, Hughes takes on a 20-metre blindside. Notice how an arcing run aims to tie in wing Matt Jess.
Flouting any coaching manual in a style akin to a carefree sevens player from the Pacific Islands, he holds the ball in one hand. His huge reach keeps it a long way away from the contact area:
Now comes the tricky part. Still holding the ball in that mighty right mitt, Hughes aims a cute cat-flap from the floor to Christian Wade, who has kept his width well:
An expert in tight spaces – as we will come to later – the wing finishes brilliantly:
Matt Mullan’s stealthy pilfer
Perhaps not as spectacular as other plays in this article, this intervention was nonetheless outstanding, underlining Wasps’ muscularity up front.
Matt Mullan enjoyed a fine scrummaging shift and offered plenty of energy in the loose as well. Here, he is part of the initial tackle on Dave Ewers from the restart:
He manages to free himself from the contact area though, taking his place at guard on the far side of the ensuing breakdown as Chiefs scrum-half Will Chudley spots a gap:
Mullan shimmies across to help Haskell down Sam Hill…
…before releasing the tackled player…
…and latching back onto the ball:
Referee Matt Carley was quick to award a penalty and Andy Goode put the hosts 13-10 ahead. Then the fun really began.
Wade rips the script apart
Teams with dangerous strike runners can spark openings from fractured situations, often when it appears their opponents are on top.
Here, Exeter cause confusion and force the ball loose from an effective counter-ruck. Joe Simpson must hit the breakdown, so Wade assumes the role of scrum-half:
Scooping up the ball, Wade sets off. He dances his side back onto the front foot. First, Dean Mumm is shrugged off:
Two lightning left-foot steps bypass Mitchell Lees and Kai Horstmann:
Tighthead Tomas Francis almost gets back, but Wade wriggles away from a fourth man:
The sequence looks mesmeric in slow motion:
Covering across, Hill finally gets hold to stop the carnage:
But, as Jess – a sixth defender – dives in, Wade releases another neat out-the-back offload to Lorenzo Cittadini:
The Italian tighthead does not panic, aiming a calm inside pass to Haskell. However, the pass does not come at this point, when Wade – back on his feet and tearing through on an incisive support line – would have skated in to complete a brace:
Instead, the flanker held on just too long and his teammate overran. In any case, the passage was a prime example of the unique capabilities of electric evasion Wade could offer to England as a back three option.
And Wasps had another World Cup hopeful on their soapbox with 77 minutes gone. The game needed winning. Up stepped a certain scrum-half.
It does seem strange that Simpson has only experienced 13 minutes of Test rugby, and that coming back in 2011 when Georgia had already been beaten.
He is an awesome, if unconventional, talent who produces something jaw-dropping fairly regularly. This was exceptional, beginning with a sturdy gather of Chudley’s high ball:
Spinning away over his left shoulder, Simpson then glances up to see a wall of white:
Now, a blend of searing pace and vision serves him well. Swerving back on himself, Simpson arcs away from Exeter’s kick-chase and isolates Ewers. He glides to the right of the hefty back-rower and snakes into open space:
Truly, we have a try of the season candidate on our hands:
A 32,600 sell-out is expected for the visit of Leicester. it is extremely likely that one or two of those in attendance will be England coaches with their World Cup training squad in mind.
When the time is right, the hosts will shake off the shackles and give it a go. It is the only way they know. Inspired by Messrs Hughes, Mullan, Wade and Simpson, Wasps are sprinting after silverware.
Thanks to BT Sport and Premiership Rugby for the match footage. You can purchase tickets to the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham here.