Wasps blitzed Bristol with a brilliant performance to reach their first Premiership final for three years after winning 47-24 at the Ricoh Arena. It was Wasps’ twelfth victory in their last 13 Premiership games under head coach Lee Blackett – and star-studded Bristol could have no complaints.
Wasps ran in tries from centre Malakai Fekitoa, flanker Jack Willis, scrum-half Dan Robson, wing Zach Kibirige and full-back Matteo Minozzi, while 37-year-old centre Jimmy Gopperth landed nine kicks out of eleven for a 22-point haul.
Shell-shocked Bristol, who play Toulon in the European Challenge Cup final next Friday, managed tries in reply by wing Luke Morahan, hooker Harry Thacker, full-back Max Malins and substitute scrum-half Harry Randall, with Callum Sheedy adding two conversions – but two of those scores came from 35 points adrift.
Rugby action took centre-stage again after one of the most difficult weeks in Premiership history, and Wasps did not disappoint as they delivered some box-office quality.
Sale Sharks’ climax to the regular season last weekend was postponed by three days after 16 players and three staff tested positive for Covid-19, only for an additional eight positive tests forcing the match to be forfeited on Wednesday.
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It meant neither Wasps nor Bristol knew their play-off opponents until 72 hours before kick-off, yet Blackett’s men looked like they had been preparing for Bristol all season, such was their overwhelming control.
Wasps, making a fourth play-off appearance in the last five years, welcomed back Willis and fit-again captain Joe Launchbury. Bristol, meanwhile, started John Afoa at tighthead prop with England international Kyle Sinckler on the bench, and Andy Uren wore the No9 shirt ahead of Randall.
Wasps made the early running and they deservedly took a ninth-minute lead when Robson’s opportunism caught Bristol’s defence flat-footed. A powerful tackle by Wasps prop Kieran Brookes set up a strong attacking position before a lineout ball found its way to Robson, who kicked accurately into space and Fekitoa gathered a kind bounce for an easy try.
Gopperth converted but it was Fekitoa’s final contribution. Having suffered what appeared to be a groin injury five minutes earlier, he limped off and was replaced by Michael Le Bourgeois.
With only two backs selected among their replacements, it put immediate pressure on Wasps’ resources, yet they continued to dominate and Gopperth kicked a 48-metre penalty for a 10-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Wasps fly-half Jacob Umaga then required lengthy treatment following a midfield collision, but he was able to continue before a second Gopperth penalty meant Bristol trailed by 13 points.
Bristol briefly rallied through a Morahan try after No8 Nathan Hughes took a quick penalty, only for Wasps to resume normal service by collecting another try before the break after Gopperth completed his penalty hat-trick.
Flanker Thomas Young surged clear from deep inside his own half, finding support runners that kept Bristol in reverse gear, and after a couple of phase-plays, Willis powered over to touch down and Gopperth’s conversion made it 23-5 at the interval.
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Bristol had to score next and Sheedy crossed Wasps’ line midway through the third quarter, only to be prevented from touching down by a mighty Willis challenge. But Bristol only had to wait another two minutes to cut the deficit, as they drove a scrum and Thacker claimed a score that Sheedy converted.
It was a reminder to Wasps of Bristol’s power, yet they responded impressively, moving past 30 points when Robson caught Bristol’s defence cold with a quickly-taken penalty to touch down, and Gopperth again converted.
The score finished Bristol, then Kibirige and Minozzi added tries in rapid succession as Wasps celebrated a return to Twickenham in scintillating fashion, before Bristol’s double try consolation in the dying minutes.
"If I was the England coach I would build my team around Jack"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 10, 2020
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