Wasps v Gloucester Rugby: A tyrannical trickery test
WASPS 33 GLOUCESTER 29
A MUSCULAR monster-mash up front, a tyrannical trickery-test out wide.
Craters punched, bludgeoned and blasted in centre-field were always going to be capped by the men with wings in their heels.
When two teams alike in construction stand square on for a slug-fest, Premiership rugby is at its most brutal, compelling and savage best.
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From the Godzillas of the pack to the Mercury men delivering the try messages, this was an absolute belter.
Ashley Johnson and Billy Vunipola are the closest Premiership equal to Akapusi Qera and Sione Kalamafoni.
But these are no mythical beasts – these are the barnstorming behemoths that collide in seismic confrontation, week after week.
Tom Varndell and Christian Wade are the nearest match in England for Charlie Sharples and Jonny May.
But these are no sky-riding Olympian deities – these are the fulminating flyers that strike fear into the top-flight flanks as standard.
In this battle royal's decisive third quarter, Wasps taught Gloucester a lesson in linking the brutes with the blitzkrieg.
And yet Nigel Davies' immovable object surged back from despair's very depths, conjuring a two-try salvo as magical as it was majestic – to register both try and losing bonus points.
Six match points from consecutive away contests at Northampton and Wasps sustains Gloucester's top-four touching distance.
At 33-17 down with eight minutes to play, any play-off notion seemed a cherry and white fancy.
Gloucester's 12-point, two-minute turnaround at the death covered the Adams Park entry fee twice over.
The Kingsholm men could not complete the unheralded victory comeback, but leave with pride certainly intact, and curiously, maybe even swelled.
Ultimately it was Wade's eighth Premiership try of a sharp season that won this bloody brawl.
The 21-year-old zipped in from long-range – but it stemmed from a calamitous Gloucester scrum.
The visitors had finally broken the back of the teak-tough Wasps' scrum resistance.
But as the Cherry and Whites bullocked straight ahead, number eight Kalamafoni lost contact with his front-five.
England man-in-waiting, Saracens-bound Vunipola pounced, exploiting Gloucester's split-second short-sightedness.
The hefty loose-forward scooped up, stepped on – and then floated the ball out to the lurking Wade.
The pass may well have been comfortably forward, but then Vunipola should never have snaffled the pill in the first place.
After a fine start to the second-half where Gloucester stole the lead through Mike Tindall's try, suddenly Wasps were in the ascendancy.
Dreadlocked demon Johnson broke off a lineout maul and raced into the Gloucester 22, but the Kingsholm men forced a sharp turnover penalty to escape another score.
Otherwise-quiet Joe Simpson tore past a lineout at the tail, Varndell tried to set Wade home again.
The hosts overcomplicated, and Gloucester cleared.
But just when Gloucester thought they had held firm, Vunipola struck.
Wasps' clever wheel at a five-metre scrum negated Gloucester's back-row.
And even referee Andrew Small ran for cover when big-rig Vunipola came trucking.
The Bristol-raised juggernaut powered over, with Robinson converting and two minutes later adding the penalty to take Wasps to that 33-17 advantage.
Gloucester could so easily have crumbled, after such a quickfire capitulation.
Instead resilience – Davies' registered trademark – reared up once more.
A catch and drive and several tight breaks later, and Ryan Mills bundled home.
With Mills suffering a dead leg, skipper Tindall stepped up to slot the conversion.
Straight from the restart Martyn Thomas squirmed through three tacklers, to hurtle into the Wasps 22.
As the black-clad cover-tacklers converged, the Welsh full-back popped up perfectly to the onrushing Charlie Sharples.
And the former St Peter's High School pupil stormed under the posts for Gloucester's fourth score.
Tindall shanked the hurried drop-goal conversion, in a bid to force the game into one final play.
Wasps restarted and Gloucester kept the ball alive for at least three minutes past the full 80.
But a third last-gasp try was simply too tall an order.
Wasps held out, and will cite that 15-minute purple patch as their victory bedrock.
Gloucester though, will rue the inability to stop those bulldozers feeding the imps.
At the start of the clash, Fijian Qera stormed away from cover to send Dan Robson home for the game's opening score.
But Wasps responded in kind with a catch-and-drive converted by Johnson.
Stephen Jones shanked a sitter off the tee, but he still slotted two penalties and the conversion to leave Gloucester headed into the break trailing 13-10.
Full-back Cook failed with an early penalty shot, and then Mills struck a post with a long-range effort.
Gloucester took early control of the second-half.
Though Cook missed another straightforward penalty, Tindall pilfered a good try.
The Cherry and Whites lost an attacking lineout in the Wasps 22 – only to steal the ball on Wasps' throw moments later.
After several tight phases Mills' delayed pass opened a gap for the gleeful Tindall to gallop home.
Confident Gloucester felt set fair – but then came the onslaught.
The beasts of burden started feeding the sprint kings, and Gloucester struggled to keep pace.
The Kingsholm men will be right to laud their late rally – and another monumental shift.
Despite defeat, Davies' men remain well-placed to challenge for that elusive play-off drive.
Somewhere along the line though, they will need to enter a lair just like this – and tame all ills within.
WASPS: H Southwell (capt), C Wade, A Masi (E Daly, 73), C Bell, T Varndell, S Jones (N Robinson, 59), J Simpson (C Davies, 71), Z Taulafo (T Payne, 61), T R Thomas (T Lindsay, 71), P Swainston (W Taylor, 54), J Cannon (M Everard, 74), M Wentzel, A Johnson (A Rae, 74), S Jones, B Vunipola.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook (M Thomas, 68), C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), T Molenaar (H Trinder, 68), J May, R Mills, D Robson (D Lewis, 65), N Wood (D Murphy, 67), D Dawidiuk (K Britton, 59), R Harden, L Lokotui, W James, T Savage (J Hamilton, 59), A Qera (M Cox, 38), S Kalamafoni. Unused: Y Thomas.
REFEREE: Andrew Small.