Tom Willis scores late try as Wasps squeeze past weakened but competitive Bristol side

Ben Coles
·4 min read
Wasps' Tom Willis and his brother Jack Willis celebrate their victory at the final whistle - Getty Images
Wasps' Tom Willis and his brother Jack Willis celebrate their victory at the final whistle - Getty Images

Wasps 23 Bristol 20

A Willis brother proved to be the match-winner for Wasps but this time it was Tom, not Jack, who scored the crucial try with three minutes left as last season's Gallagher Premiership finalists squeezed past a weakened but competitive Bristol side.

Willis was on hand to finish off a superb break by Josh Bassett in the final stages, settling a contest which after a lacklustre first half eventually burst into life.

Not to be outdone by his brother, Jack Willis was named man of the match after at least two penalty-creating turnovers as well as a try in the second half, one week on from scoring on his England debut against Georgia, before being released from the squad. A text message from the flanker told Wasps head coach Lee Blackett all he needed to know about his availability for Sunday's game.

"As a coach, you are always a bit concerned about internationals coming back. When you have a lad like Jack texting you as soon as he finds out he has been left out, telling you; 'Please can you put me in the team for this week because I want to rip in for the boys', that is pretty special. He is not thinking about England training next week, he is thinking about Wasps," Blackett said.

"Jack had a great England debut, came off with a bit of a dead leg. It is difficult for Eddie at the moment. No wonder he is talking about hybrid players because you cannot fit all the back-rows in at the moment."

The rematch took place only 43 days after Wasps and Bristol had met at the Ricoh Arena to compete for a spot in the Premiership final. Injuries and international call-ups had stretched Bristol's squad but they produced an effort here to be proud of, with full-back Piers O'Conor and flanker Chris Vui both excellent.

"For creating depth, the guys who fronted up in the jersey did a great job," said Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam. "I can't fault the effort the guys put in."

Bristol struck first, thanks to Sam Bedlow's penalty from long-range which was matched by Jimmy Gopperth in a quiet opening period, in which Wasps also lost No 8 Brad Shields to injury after half an hour.

Gopperth doubled Wasps' lead after Jack Willis - unsurprisingly - won a breakdown penalty in Bristol's 22 to put Wasps 6-3 up at half-time. Good power from former England prop Kieran Brookes at the scrum then handed Gopperth a chance to strike this third penalty, extending Wasps' lead to six points.

Bristol needed a response and came up with their best attack of the game so far, Alaptati Leiua cutting through against his old club before Juan de Jongh's tackle from an offside position led to the Wasps centre being yellow carded.

Umaga's hurried clearance kept Bristol on the attack and after sustained pressure, Harry Randall sniped over from a quick-tapped penalty for the game's first try, throwing a dummy and wriggling under two tackles to finish. Bedlow's conversion then put Bristol into the lead.

After the hosts failed to roll away at the ruck Bedlow knocked over three more points to give Bristol a small cushion, but after a powerful counter-ruck by replacement Alfie Barbeary, Wasps won a penalty and kicked to the corner, leading to a barrage of short-range carries before referee Tom Foley went to the TMO to check if Jack Willis had scored. Indeed he had, crossing the whitewash for Wasps' first try 70 minutes into the game.

Bristol, brilliantly, responded. Winning a lineout in Wasps' 22, Bristol attacked and won a penalty which Randall tapped again, before this time being held up narrowly short. The visitors recycled, captain Siale Piutau crossing to put Bristol ahead again at 20-16, before Wasps rallied with Bassett's classy run down the touchline, slipping out of two Bristol tackles, setting up Tom Willis for the win.