Wasps edge Bristol 23-20 with a last-gasp Tom Willis try

Wasps 23-20 Bristol: Lee Blackett’s side edge their Premiership opener with last-gasp Tom Willis try in a replay of last season’s semi-final

  • Flanker Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga returned from England duty for Wasps
  • A severely depleted Bristol could have snatched a win with a late Siale Piutau try
  • But Jack Willis’ brother Tom scored with two minutes left to seal a narrow victory

Tom Willis’ try two minutes from time proved just enough for Wasps to deprive a severely depleted Bristol side a remarkable victory in their Gallagher Premiership opener.

Wasps, with England squad members Jack Willis (brother of Tom) and Jacob Umaga back in their line-up, seemed huge favourites but it took a powerful run from wing Josh Bassett to set up Tom Willis’ late match-winner and get the hosts over the line.

Jack Willis also crossed for Wasps, with Jimmy Gopperth kicking three penalties and two conversions as last season’s runners-up – who beat Bristol in the semi-final in October – snatched a dramatic 23-20 victory at the Ricoh Arena.

It was rough justice on Bears, who deserved at least a draw. The visitors scored tries through Harry Randall and Siale Piutau – who put Bristol ahead in the 74th minute before Wasps broke their hearts at the death – with Sam Bedlow converting both and adding two penalties.

Brothers Tom (second left) and Jack Willis (left of referee) were instrumental in Wasps’ win

Bristol made the better start and took an eighth-minute lead when Bedlow, making his first Premiership start at fly-half, kicked a 45-metre penalty.

The Bears could easily have doubled that advantage but when presented with two easier opportunities for Bedlow, they opted for the corner, only to lose possession at both driving mauls.

However, the visitors’ all-action game continued to rattle their opponents, who barely had a look-in for the first 15 minutes, but Wasps managed to relieve the pressure and draw level with a simple penalty from Gopperth.

After 26 minutes the hosts should have scored the first try of the game but they blew a golden opportunity.

Umaga slipped through Bristol’s defence but his pass to Bassett, who would have been a certain scorer, was deemed forward.

Jack Willis (centre) praises sibling Tom (left) for his last-gasp try as Wasps beat Bristol 23-20

Tom Willis’ crucial score came two minutes before the end after Josh Bassett’s powerful run

Wasps then suffered an injury blow when number eight Brad Shields was forced off with a leg problem to be replaced by Tom Willis, but they overcame that setback to take the lead for the first time with a second penalty from Gopperth.

The hosts became increasingly dominant in the second quarter with their pack battering the Bears’ line in the final moments of the half, but a determined Bristol defence held firm to keep Wasps to 6-3 up at the interval.

After the restart, sweetly timed passing from the Wasps backs sent Zach Kibirige away down the right flank but an excellent cover tackle from Niyi Adeolokun brought the wing down five metres short.

However, the home side maintained the pressure to win a scrum penalty for Gopperth to extend the lead with his third success.

Bristol Bears captain Siale Piutau (red scrumcap) thought he had won the game with his late try

Bears responded with a searing break from Alapati Leiua which took his side deep into the opposition 22, where Wasps were penalised and centre Juan De Jongh shown a yellow card for a deliberate offside.

Bristol took immediate advantage when Randall darted over from close range before Gopperth and Bedlow both missed penalties.

De Jongh returned in time to see Bedlow kick his second penalty before Jack Willis drove over from close range in the 70th minute.

Bristol then looked to have won it when Piutau finished off another snipe from Randall, until Wasps conjured up their match winner to provide a late sting in the tail.

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