Wasps got there in the end and given the spectre of administration emerged just 48 hours before this nervous victory they can be forgiven for doing things the hard way. They were excellent for 50 minutes, romping into a 29-point lead with Josh Bassett scoring two tries and Jack Willis proving a formidable force. Back came Bath to give Wasps a sizeable dose of the jitters but the visitors showed impressive resolve in difficult circumstances to prove victorious.
There is no doubting it has been a trying week for Wasps after filing notice of their intention to appoint administrators on Wednesday. Indeed, such is their financial plight that they have 20 days to come up with the £2m they owe HMRC in unpaid tax. The Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor stressed beforehand that the key difference between them and Worcester was that it was a proactive decision taken by the club, which suggests a degree of confidence, but a hard deadline they have chosen to set themselves nonetheless.
“After the last couple of days I’m really proud of the efforts and delighted with the result, getting five points,” said the head coach Lee Blackett. “Everyone is taking it in different ways. The majority of players are like me, and have belief we’ll come out of it. They’ll be others who are serial worriers about things. [The owners] gave assurances, but no one can guarantee anything. That’s why I like what they said and were honest in their appraisals of where we are. They are confident. There’s a lot of interest. It is a great club. Look at the facilities we’ve got, the stadium. There’s been a lot of interest, new interest coming forward. I get very little info as I don’t ask, but there are a lot of people who are very positive.”
The news came out of the blue, for Premiership Rugby as well as the Wasps playing squad and staff and as a result, there was an anxiousness among the players who were called in for a meeting with the owner Derek Richardson and the chief executive Stephen Vaughan. On the pitch the players began in a manner to suggest their fears had been allayed, albeit helped by the fact that Bath had been substandard in almost every department. It proved enough for Wasps, but only just.
Bath’s need for victory was just as acute as their visitors. They are among the Premiership clubs who can rely on a wealthy benefactor but there have been few signs of recovery under Johann van Graan following last season’s last-placed finish in the table. Like Wasps they had lost their opening two fixtures, including a humbling last time out against Sale, who played most of the match with 14 men.
They began with purpose, carrying the fight to Wasps and looking to take advantage of any uncertainty spreading through the visitors’ ranks after Wednesday’s bombshell. After battering away at the door, however, they coughed up the ball and from there the rest of the first half became an all too familiar story.
Two Jacob Umaga penalties were followed by a fine score from Bassett down the left, scampering to meet his grubber in the corner. Willis was next over at the back of a maul and the third was a peach, finished by Will Porter under the posts after good work from Umaga and Burger Odendaal. Bath did get themselves on the scoreboard before the interval with the full-back Matt Gallagher finishing off a fine move on his home debut after Orlando Bailey’s mini-break but two more Umaga penalties – one secured by the irrepressible Willis – further extended Wasps’ lead at the interval.
When Bassett scored his second Wasps were cruising but two close-range scores from Tom Dunn either side of a jinking effort from Jonathan Joseph pulled Bath back to within eight. A Piers Francis penalty brought Bath to within touching distance with a minute to go but Umaga responded in kind at the death to settle matters.