Wasps 47-24 Bristol: Malakai Fekitoa sparks five-try demolition and Jimmy Gopperth kicks 22-point haul as hosts reach first Premiership final since 2017
- The hosts ran in five tries to secure their 12th victory in last 13 league matches
- Centre Gopperth found the target with nine of his 11 kicks for a 22-point haul
- Lee Blacket’s side will face either Exeter Chiefs or Bath in the Twickenham final
Before his face had even appeared on the big screen, Jack Willis’s team-mates were already joking about where he would find the space for his latest man-of-the-match medal.
They ruffled his hair and did their best to bring him back down to earth, knowing the 23-year-old flanker is enjoying a meteoric rise that has coincided with Wasps’ charge to the Premiership final.
In truth, half a dozen Wasps players were worthy of the accolade. They outgunned Bristol’s all-stars and, with confidence oozing from every pore, they will now fancy their chances at Twickenham.
Wasps ran in five tries to secure their 12th victory in last 13 league matches on Saturday
But Willis was on another level. He delivered the complete performance that left Lee Blackett purring. ‘Just look at that leg drive,’ lauded the Wasps head coach, as he rewatched Willis’s try like a star-struck fan. Then there were the tackles and turnovers that killed off Bristol one by one.
Wasps have defied the odds this season. They were lingering in ninth when Blackett took over from Dai Young in February. They had been written off but have since won 12 out of 14 games.
It seemed like the odds were against them again when marquee midfielder Malakai Fekitoa was injured in the first minute. The All Blacks star limped through the next 10 minutes. He collected Dan Robson’s silky chip kick to score under the posts, before being hauled off the pitch in tears.
Wasps could have folded but instead they rallied with punch after punch. They won scrum penalties and hustled their opponents to prevent them running the ball out of their own half. Kieran Brookes made a pile-driving tackle on Piers O’Connor and Semi Radradra was starved of space.
Wasps centre Jimmy Gopperth found the target with nine of his 11 kicks for a 22-point haul
Other than Nathan Hughes, Bristol’s forwards struggled to make hard yards in the tight play. The No8’s quick tap penalty allowed Luke Morahan to score after 22 minutes, but their game was littered with errors. In the Wasps back row, Brad Shields and Thomas Young helped out Willis with the breakdown onslaught. Young stole a loose ball inside his own half, breaking down the wing, before Willis scored, with England coach Eddie Jones in the crowd.
‘Everyone talks about Jack’s turnovers but his ball-carrying and breakdown work is phenomenal,’ said Blackett. ‘He has always been unbelievable over the ball, ever since he was tackling his brother in the back garden. Now he’s developed an all-round game. He’s put himself out there and it’s up to Eddie if he wants to select him.’
Wasps gave themselves an 18-point cushion by half-time. Those on the pitch grew an extra inch, with Robson pulling off an audacious backdoor pass inside his own 22 and Jimmy Gopperth putting the ball wide with cute kicks.
SHOULD ROBSON’S GAME-BREAKING TRY HAVE STOOD?
There were 14 points between the sides and 20 minutes to go when Dan Robson scored the sniper’s try which put Wasps 33-12 in front — but should the try have stood?
As Bristol infringed and referee Matt Carley explained to their players why it was a penalty, Robson took a quick tap-and-go behind the ref’s back and touched down in a flash. Bristol players looked bemused but former Premier referee JP Doyle agreed the try was legal.
‘It comes down to who engages who,’ he said. ‘Did the players start talking to the referee for clarity over the penalty or did the referee initiate the discussion? ‘Because it was the players who engaged, Robson was entitled to tap it and there was no reason to disallow the try.
‘Robson was behind Matt when he went but the line judge would have made sure the tap-and-go was taken from the right place.’
‘There is such an air of confidence on and off the pitch,’ said Blackett. ‘Beforehand, the pressure was probably getting to us and that was the hardest thing. Seeing players and staff working so hard behind the scenes but, with each poor result, the pressure was making the boys more and more nervous.’
Harry Thacker offered a brief threat of a comeback when he scored off a driving maul after half-time, but the Bears could not overcome the defensive intensity of the likes of Will Rowlands and Joe Launchbury.
Wasps cut loose. Robson was one step ahead of anyone else on the pitch. His quick tap-and-go caught Bristol off guard, finding space to extend his side’s lead.
The home side held an 18-point advantage at half-time after a try by flanker Jack Willis
Zach Kibirige sprinted 80 metres to score from Siale Piutau’s loose pass, before Josh Bassett and Matteo Minozzi combined for another. By the time Bristol had strung together their best attacks, after 74 minutes, the game was gone. ‘We were our own worst enemies,’ said Bristol coach Pat Lam. ‘We said at half-time, “There’s no rocket science here, fellas, we ain’t firing a shot because we’re making too many errors”.
‘When someone makes a mistake, we all pay the price; whether that’s dropping a ball, kicking quality, missing a tackle. Unfortunately a lot of us weren’t at our best and Wasps were. This doesn’t take away from our season but, on this journey, you have to take some of these hits. I’ve been around a long time and these are the games that make us stronger.’
Bristol’s Harry Randall scored a consolation try, before Max Malins added another. But the day already belonged to Willis and Wasps.
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