It was a fashionably late entrance to this season’s Premiership by Wasps but a performance that suggests they have substance to back up their style. They scored six tries – two from the debutant Ali Crossdale – and, with a vintage performance at scrum-half by Dan Robson, produced the kind of showing that pockmarked their run to the final the season before last. It made you wonder just what Lee Blackett’s side may be capable of when their injury problems clear.
Bristol would have been long odds indeed to be bottom of the Premiership after two matches with just one try to show for their efforts and while two late tries for Wasps put a layer of gloss on the result, they were emphatic victors. Brad Shields, who was sent off late on for a second yellow card, Dan Frost, Tom Willis and Zach Kibirige were also among the scorers on their first match of the new campaign – they were the “13th team” last week and as a result had a bye – but Robson was the architect.
Given Harry Randall has not started either of Bristol’s defeats yet, Robson will have hoped he has struck an early blow in the battle to England involvement this autumn. He was on the bench for the two summer Tests and it is remarkable to think that he has still not started for England.
For Bristol, it is another disappointing defeat. They were easy on the eye for plenty of this match but error-prone and ill-disciplined. “Human beings play rugby, game plan makes opportunities but players make mistakes and grow and that is the beauty of this team,” said Bristol’s director of rugby Pat Lam. “We have been in this situation many times, The Premiership is about 24 rounds, points are on offer all the time and once you don’t get them you learn why not and move on.”
Wasps, meanwhile, have something to build on as they await the returns from injury of Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis, Paolo Odogwu and Alfie Barbeary. On this evidence they have added some defensive steel in pre-season – Vaea Fifita caught the eye on debut in that regard – and a bright campaign awaits if they continue in a similar vein. “Defensively, the way we held them out at times was outstanding,” said Blackett. “We worked so hard on it in the off-season. Our resilience close to the line was outstanding.”
Crossdale has been on England’s radar over the past year or so, involved in wider squads but remaining on the fringes and though Eddie Jones’s most recent squad was littered with both noteworthy inclusions and absentees, the full-back’s omission was somewhat baffling. He arrived from Saracens in the summer and it appears Wasps have some player on their hands given this was just his third Premiership start.
“You saw how fast he is,” said Blackett. “Someone who has got that ability to beat people with out-and-out pace. He is still young so there’s plenty more to come.”
His first try came after Bristol had taken the lead via a Callum Sheedy penalty and came about after a considerable show of strength from Malakai Fekitoa. He got the ball away to Jacob Umaga, who shipped on to Crossdale. The 23-year-old sensed the opportunity, pinned back his ears and had the pace to reach the left-hand corner.
Bristol lost Harry Thacker to injury but responded with a close-range try from Max Lahiff while Shields was in the sin-bin. Sheedy missed the conversion, however, before Wasps hit back immediately with an Umaga penalty and Bristol found themselves going in at the break eight points down after Wasps’ and Crossdale’s second try. A delightful 50:22 banana kick from Umaga – another omitted by Jones this week – gave Wasps territory and after the forwards drove them close to the line, Robson fizzed a pass to Crossdale, who effortlessly stepped past Ioan Lloyd.
Wasps were in a commanding position when Shields was bundled over from close range five minutes into the second half – Jimmy Gopperth, on for Fekitoa at half-time, converting for a 23-8 lead. Wasps put the result beyond doubt when the replacement hooker Frost pounced on the loose ball after a strong counter-ruck and scampered clear to the line. Shields was given his marching orders after sacking a maul but Willis’s late burst to the line and Kibirige’s intercept try rounded things off.