Christian Wade showed last week’s Aviva Premiership hat-trick was no one-trick wonder as he starred in an electric eight-try encounter between Newcastle Falcons and Wasps.
Danny Cipriani, Wade, Thomas Young and Jimmy Gopperth all scored in a thrilling match, with Wasps' bonus point enough to see them to the table's summit ahead of the New Year.
But it wasn't a match they had all their own way in Newcastle, Sonatane Takulua and Marcus Watson both crossing within four minutes of the first whistle.
Rob Vickers also touched down for the Falcons in a frantic six-try first half, while Mark Wilson’s late score got the hosts to within touching distance in the 30-34 defeat, picking up two bonus points for their efforts
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Hughes domination sees Wasps fight back
Yet in spite of a plethora of try scorers to whet the appetite, it was No.8 Nathan Hughes again catching the eye, showing the form that saw him earn a first England cap under Eddie Jones in the autumn.
Plenty of pre-match talk was dedicated to whether Hughes could nullify the threat of the Falcons back-line, and with half an eye on a potential RBS 6 Nations berth come February, it was a role he completed in some style.
A wonderful carry to set up Gopperth's fourth, bonus-point-winning try proved just rewards for the 25-year-old, with his three offloads the highest of anyone on the park, and 16 emphatic runs showing why his stature continues to increase.
It was a showing based around character as well as application, helping his side battle back from two early tries at Kingston Park, notoriously a tough place to go against an ever-improving Newcastle side.
Wade and Watson star on the wing
In the battle of the flying wingers in the North East, both Christian Wade and Marcus Watson will have enjoyed their night’s work.
But it was the latter who brought the early cheers, brilliantly taking down the kick-off after Takulua had already crossed, stepping his way into a superb 60m run to light up Friday night with just four minutes on the clock.
But when the opposition has Wade in their ranks, you know you’re going to be in for a tough battle.
Thank you very much for having us! Brilliant spectacle for the neutral no doubt and a great atmosphere at Kingston Park tonight! https://t.co/NCsyDOiwz8
— Wasps (@WaspsRugby) December 30, 2016
And it proved so when, on 23 minutes, Christian Daly broke from his own 22 to find Dan Robson who chipped forward, setting Wade on his way with the aid of a Falcons fumble to get his fingertips to the ball first.
Cipriani edges battle of the boot
Even a game of high-scoring drama can see the outcome come down to vital moments, and Danny Cipriani’s clinical efforts from the tee will certainly have delighted director of rugby Dai Young.
The fly half kicked three conversions in all, including one to add to his own try, Wasps’ first of the evening midway through the opening period.
And with four points the ultimate difference, it proved a vital cog in the visitors’ machine, despite carrying a knock from the early stages which eventually saw him depart at half-time.
His opposite number Joel Hodgson has enjoyed a coming of age so far this season, with his four efforts from the tee vital in keeping the Falcons fighting in the closing stages.
But with his side unable to convert the opening and closing scores of the night, they were forced to go for a try in the dying stages, unable to get the vital score which would have seen them into the Aviva Premiership’s top six.