Wasps secure third place in the Premiership table with a victory on a sunny Geordie afternoon.
For all but our four play-off contenders, the regular Premiership season is over for yet another year. At a sun-soaked Kingston Park earlier today, Wasps claimed victory over play-off rivals Newcastle Falcons to secure third place and a semi-final away to Saracens, while Newcastle will travel to Sandy Park and face off against table toppers and reigning champions Exeter Chiefs in their own backyard.
On a sunny Geordie afternoon, Dai Young's side emerged as deserving winners, seeing off Newcastle with a healthy 17-point winning margin.
Wasps' performance itself was far from perfect today, conceding more than their fair share of penalties whilst also being guilty of taking their foot off the gas in the final half hour.
After taking a 31-3 lead with a 48th minute Jimmy Gopperth try, the Coventry-based side allowed Falcons to come back into the game with tries from Josh Matavesi, Zach Kibirige and Evan Olmstead. Despite their efforts to eradicate their soft underbelly, Wasps tendency to concede late points persists and could cause significant issues in their semi-final at Allianz Park in a fortnight.
Saracens, like Exeter, are unrelenting when it comes to knockout rugby and will severely punish Wasps for any lapses in focus. A message Director of Rugby Dai Young is sure to hammer home over the next two weeks.
Falcons will be disappointed by the manner of their loss today. With a buoyant home crowd and the sun blazing down, they will have been hoping to carry winning momentum into their own semi-final.
Newcastle were visibly worse for wear without a natural fly-half in their side, with inside-centre Josh Matavesi deputising at ten for the injured duo of Toby Flood and Joel Hodgson. The absence of star wingers Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti also took their toll on Falcons' performance today, the two Player Of The Season nominees unique game-breaking tendencies were sorely missed in the first 50 minutes. While Alex Tait and Kibirige are excellent players, they cannot produce the same level of experience and potential game-changing moments the Pacific Island wing pairing have done throughout the season.
Given some shaky performances throughout their campaign, Wasps' play-off fortunes will be significantly improved with the confidence of a victory to their backs but will need a special performance to topple a near full strength Saracens side at the Allianz.
Dean Richards and his coaching team will be thrilled, as it is, just to reach the play-offs after finishing in eighth place last season, but will not be short of motivation to reach this year's final. A large contingent of Falcons' first-choice side are well into their 30's and will be all too aware this could be their last shot at silverware before hanging up their boots one last time.
Cipriani's actions speak louder than words
Danny Cipriani picked up a well-deserved Man Of The Match Award this afternoon after his masterful management of Wasps' attack in the first 45 minutes of the game. The 30-year-old was forced off the pitch early in the second-half with ankle aggravation. Once again Cipriani is letting his actions speak louder than his words, doing his utmost to secure a spot on the plane to South Africa with England this June. Did he impress England boss Eddie Jones enough to receive good news next Thursday? We shall have to wait and see.
It is difficult to judge which of today's teams will face the tougher task, Wasps travelling to Saracens or Falcons heading south to Sandy Park. One thing is for certain, both sides will require their season's best performances to earn a spot at Twickenham at the end of the month. Exeter and Saracens have both picked up terrifying steam in their end of season run-in and will be hellbent on retaining/regaining the Premiership trophy.
Tries: Matavesi, Kibirige, Olmstead
Conversions: Willis (2)
Tries: Cruse, Daly, Cipriani, Bassett, Gopperth, Le Roux
Conversions: Cipriani, Daly, Gopperth