LONDON Irish missed a gilt-edged chance to close the gap at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table as they blew an eight-point lead with 20 minutes to go in a narrow 17-13 defeat at home to Wasps, writes Richard Ashton.

Exiles started brightly and dominated possession, earning a kickable ninth-minute penalty which they instead decided to kick to the corner.

However, despite numerous phases of possession, it came to nothing when they were penalised just short of the line for not releasing.

Wasps fought back and also declined a shot at goal, although their power at the scrum saw Irish's Ben Franks yellow-carded in the 22nd minute.

Yet Nick Kennedy’s men held firm despite being down to 14 men, Joe Simpson’s pass to Willie Le Roux ending with the South African bundled into touch as Irish kept last season’s runners-up at bay.

Le Roux made another fine break before off-loading to Josh Bassett, but the wing was tackled 10 metres short of the line as Irish stayed level.

And it was the home side who deservedly took the lead shortly after, fly half Tommy Bell landing a straight-forward 30th-minute penalty after Wasps strayed off side.

There was little further action in a surprisingly tepid opening 40 minutes, Irish going into the break with a 3-0 advantage.

Wasps began the second half with more potency, Joe Cokanasiga making a fine tackle to halt Bassett before Christian Wade’s cute grubber kick ran dead as Jimmy Gopperth chased in – the Wasps number 10 going over the advertising hoardings in his desperation to touch down.

Clear daylight emerged in the 51st minute, though, as Alex Lewington read a risky pass to intercept and sprint under the posts from 30 metres. Bell’s conversion extended the lead to 10-0.

The visitors hit back five minutes later, though, earning a penalty which they kicked to the corner before a powerful rolling maul culminated with captain Ashley Johnson touching down. Gopperth’s well-struck conversion attempt drifted wide, but Wasps had reduced the deficit to five points.

In a topsy-turvy encounter, Bell nudged Exiles into a 13-5 lead on the hour mark, striking a penalty through the uprights after Wasps were pinged at the breakdown.

Sadly, that was as good as it got for the home side, as Wasps – inspired by the introduction of the fit-again England international Danny Cipriani – crossed twice in the space of four minutes to take an eventually decisive lead.

Firstly, a wonderful break by Le Roux allowed Bassett to surge clear and score in the corner, although Gopperth missed the conversion.

The crucial blow came in the 66th minute, and was inspired Cipriaini’s fellow half-back replacement Dan Robson. The scrum half spotted a gap in the Irish defence and burst clear, then timed his pass perfectly to allow No. 8 Nizaam Carr to show the hosts’ defence a clean pair of heels and go over. Gopperth finally landed the extras to put his side 17-13 in front.

And try as they might in front of a good-sized crowd of 8,075 – admittedly boosted by a fine contingent of visiting fans – Exiles could not come back against a disciplined Wasps defence.

An eighth consecutive Premiership defeat – allied to Worcester’s shock 31-27 success at Leicester Tigers on Saturday – leaves London Irish five points adrift at the foot of the table, with things getting no easier as they head to fifth-placed Gloucester next Saturday (3pm).

London Irish: 15 Marshall, 14 Cokanasiga (Fowlie, 58), 13 Mulchrone, 12 McLean, 11 Alex Lewington (Elrington, 22), 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Meehan (Steele, 55), 1 Franks (Elrington, 52), 2 Paice (c) (Woolstencroft, 75),3 Hoskins (Du Plessis, 52), 4 van Der Merwe, 5 Paulo (De Chaves, 57), 6 Coman, 7 Northcote-Green (Gilsenan, 68), 8 Cowan

Wasps: 15 Le Roux, 14 Wade, 13 de Jongh, 12 Lovobalavu (Cipriani, 60), 11 Bassett, 10 Gopperth, 9 Simpson (Robson, 52), 1 McIntyre (Harris, 64), 2 Johnson (c), 3 Cooper-Wooley (Moore, 64), 4 Gaskell, 5 Rowlands (Myall, 69), 6 Haskell (Willis, 64), 7 Thompson, 8 Carr.

Attendance: 8,075.