Will Spencer’s red card marred a captivating clash at the Ricoh Arena, as Wasps eventually came out 41-35 winners over a plucky Leicester side.
Leicester’s performance was impressively pugnacious in the face of adversity – a far cry from the embarrassing 40-6 loss at the hands of Exeter earlier this month – but ultimately Spencer’s red card was too painful a blow to recover from.
Wasps’ attacking mastery didn’t take long to appear in the early stages, and after Juan de Jongh was the eventual beneficiary of a deflected kick off Telusa Veainu’s face, Dai Young’s side scored two more first-half tries.
The second provided the watching Eddie Jones with food for thought ahead of the Autumn internationals next month: Elliot Daly – playing at 15 at Jones’ request – chipped the ball sumptuously towards Josh Bassett on the touchline, who rose highest to score. If Daly can offer a playmaking option from fullback, then surely he must be first-choice for England’s Autumn international games next month.
Daly’s long-distance kicking is also a handy weapon for any side, and his 53-metre strike on the stroke of half-time gave Wasps a seven-point lead heading into the break.
It wasn’t the only advantage they held, as Daly’s penalty came from a shoulder to the head from Will Spencer. With the help of the TMO, referee Ian Tempest adjudged Spencer’s tackle to be worthy of a red card.
A frustrated spate of angry rugby players swarmed around the issue on Twitter, but the simple fact is that the sport holds a responsibility to protect players’ heads, and penalising contact to this area is the first step to reducing concussion.
Spencer’s red card threatened to kill the game, but Leicester looked revitalised after the break. Sione Kalamafoni crossed to put Leicester in the lead for the first time, but Juan de Jongh struck back only minutes later, slaloming past numerous defenders to score his second of the game.
While Lima Sopoaga’s inclusion prompted much of the pre-match conversation, it was his opposite number who was dominating proceedings at the Ricoh. George Ford was condemned endlessly after Leicester’s loss to Exeter in the opening game, but his last two performances have proved his worth as England’s first-choice fly-half.
A common criticism of Ford is that he struggles to control the game when his forwards are struggling, but the fly-half was at his best in steering a Leicester side shorn of a key ball carrier and without a functioning set piece.
His attacking prowess had already been seen in twice in setting up Jonny May and later Manu Tuilagi to score in the first half, and Ford set May up for his second midway through the second stanza to push Leicester back into the lead.
Geordan Murphy was only taking charge of his 2nd game, but it was one in which the former Ireland flyer would’ve flourished. It was end-to-end, and Leicester’s forwards were miraculously keeping up with play despite having to compensate for a numerical disadvantage.
Leicester had conceded 73 points over the previous two matches, and the 45 more they shipped today is a worrying trend that Murphy must look to turn around in the coming weeks.
Wasps continue to ship points too, and even with their new defensive line speed they are still struggling to eliminate their opponents’ attacking threats, which will continue to hold back their progress this season.