Wasps game against Lightning at Loughborough represented their fourth loss out of four to a side placed above them in the table.
This was a hard-fought battle in the wet, just the sort of day to welcome in the month of December. When Lightning lost their Canadian prop Daleaka Menin early on to injury, it gave the Amber-and-Blacks an edge in the scrum that they held throughout, buoyed no doubt by the first appearance this season of the redoubtable Rocky Clark in the No 1 shirt. But fallibilities elsewhere – the line-out in particular – meant they had to wait till the 79th minute for their one and only try.
When you have have two centurion-internationals on your strength. you always fancy your chances. Sarah Hunter was a constant threat at the back of the scrum and the breakdown; Katy Daley-Mclean demonstrated why she is the best No 10 in the world; she wasn’t faultless – in these conditions nobody could be – but kept her side moving forward through well-placed kicks and searching passes.
An early kick finished in the right-hand corner to put Wasps on the back foot. A series of rumbles saw Hunter over the line to put her side in good humour. 7-0.
Playing into the wind, Wasps enjoyed an under-used tactic: kicking high, to see the ball being swirled back into welcoming arms. Lizzie Goulden, the Kiwi now committing herself to the English cause, employed this device several times. Lightning’s tendency to fall offside resulted in a penalty. 7-3
Wasps might have added to this after a series of drives, but when the ball was finally swung wide, an unfortunate handling error robbed them. These were a distinguishing features of the game: Lightning’s pack were better organised in the rolling maul. All too often a promising position for Wasps failed to result in a try as the forwards couldn’t keep their structure all the way to the line. And Lightning’s backs kept the wet ball under better control.
By the half-hour mark the visitors had enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but the annoying errors persisted. Though they won a penalty when Lightning dropped a scrum, they conceded a second try to the driven maul. Hunter again.
So the long walk back to warmth and shelter saw the hosts leading 14-3.
When Goulden repeated Daley-Mclean’s kick to the corner, they couldn’t upset Lightning’s line-out routine. Instead, the defence moved the ball competently right up to the 10-metre line. Then Jo Brown was on the end of a third driving maul to stretch the lead to 21-3.
Are we allowed to suggest that this highly skilful manoeuvre is becoming all to familiar in the modern game? It’s an obvious tactical option in foul weather, but the defence has so few chances of keeping the wolf from the door, and a yellow card is all too often the result.
Leah Bartlett was responsible for ensuring a bonus-point win with a fourth try for the hosts. 28-3
Only now, at the very tail-end of the game, could Wasps get the try their efforts had richly deserved. Hannah West celebrated her half-century of club caps in the best way possible. We have to wonder why they find continuity so tricky. Apart from the set scrum, there was inaccuracy in too many parts of their game. They know they can qualify for the final stages with a fourth place, but of course their ambitions will be set much higher. Gloucester-Hartpury lie only one point behind them; they too suffer from inconsistency, but have the players to produce great results.
Result: Lightning 28 Wasps 10
Bristol 19 Quins 39
Glos-Pury 64 DMP 0
Valkyries 0 Saracens 63
Waterloo 10 Richmond 24
The Table after 10 Rounds: