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London Wasps suffered their first defeat of the season by 18 points to 10 at the hands of Sale Sharks last night, despite scoring the only try of the night in a scrappy affair at Edgeley Park.
Six penalties by Charlie Hodgson were enough to see his side home, Josh Lewsey scoring Wasps' touchdown early in the second half with Van Gisbergen adding a conversion and penalty to complete the scoring.
In a game that lacked fluidity from both sides, Wasps struggled to build a platform from which they could stretch the Sale defence. Referee Sean Davey attempted to stamp some discipline on the game, issuing yellow cards to first Jason White on fourteen minutes and then Simon Shaw on the stroke of half time in an attempt to dissuade both sides from killing the ball and encroaching off side, but the tension between the two sides threatened to boil over for much of the match, with Wasps in particular showing frustration at some of the official's decisions.
Hodgson opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a penalty after Shaw had been involved in two fractious incidents with White at ruck and line out. It was Wasps who applied the first concerted pressure however, Van Gisbergen gathering a clearance kick and embarking on a lateral run that saw him link up with winger Paul Sackey on the opposite side of the field. Sackey took advantage of what little space he had before offloading the perfect ball, though the support was driven into touch. Wasps continued to pressure from the ensuing line out and Sale conceded the inevitable penalty under the posts for Van Gisbergen to get Wasps off the mark with a simple pot at goal.
Sale answered in the shape of a Sebastian Chabal attack from the base of a scrum, Wasps' Matt Dawson putting in the first of a number of big tackles to bring the Frenchman down, but on the quarter hour it was Wasps who were looking more dangerous, breaks from Van Gisbergen and Voyce seeing both players breaking tackles and making good ground, Sharks' Jason White seeing yellow on the quarter hour for persistent killing of the ball. Wasps used the consequent penalty to kick for the corner, and Voyce looked to dive over from the driving maul, but was bundled into touch.
Sale didn't set out to play a lot of rugby tonight. When they do, they tend to come off second best against us, so they kept it tight, kicked their goals and go the win
Sale relied on Hodgson's boot to move them forward into Wasps half, a move he repeated well as the match continued, and Sale looked to put together some driving play in the Wasps half. Hodgson kicked another penalty on 18 minutes and looked to mix it up with a wide handling move, but Wasps rush defence was wise to the tactics, Voyce up fast to close down Cueto, and Hodgson quickly abandoned these tactics to focus on kicking for territory and using his powerful pack to play a tight, driving game.
On the 24th minute, Joe Worsley was replaced by John Hart, the Wasps blind-side having suffered a knock to the knee that ended his evening, and though Hart was a worthy replacement, Wasps may have missed Worsley's tackling and physical presence around the pitch as Sale got their forwards game going later in the game.
Referee Davey penalised Wasps for a series of off-side infringements as the game approached the half hour, and Hodgson converted the penalties to give his side a 9-3 lead as the half entered the last five minutes.
Although lacking consistent possession, Wasps were still looking to attack, and Alex King's little show of the ball in his own twenty-two opened space for Voyce to make fifty metres up the centre of the field. From the ruck, scrum-half Dawson put a cheeky grubber down the blind side for Sackey, though the winger was again bundled into touch just metres from the corner flag.
As the half drew to a close Wasps were frustrated and looking to force the play, frustration resulting in Simon Shaw receiving a yellow card for holding on in the ruck and allowing Hodgson to edge his side to a 12-3, his penalty the last action of the first half.
Wasps looked to start the second half with a more structured approach, putting together some good driving phases, though it was Hodgson who had the first scoring opportunity, Davey adjudging Dallaglio to have broken his binding as the scrum wheeled well over 90 degrees, but the kick went wide.
With Shaw back on the pitch, Wasps were looking more like themselves, Josh Lewsey's beautiful pass out of the tackle putting Stuart Abbott behind the defence, and though Abbott's long pass found Voyce, Sale's cover defence slid across to halt the move. However, more quick ball was coming Wasps way and on the 51st minute Lewsey, standing at scrum half, dummied right before stepping on the gas, carving through the Sale defence with a diagonal run left to touch down under the posts for the only try of the game, Van Gisbergen adding the simple conversion to draw Wasps back to 12-10.
Pressure from their visitors in the next ten minutes might have seen Sale lose confidence, but it was not to be, as the hosts started to put together some good attacking phases through their forwards, who were popping off good ball to keep Wasps defence on the back foot, and forcing the likes of Dawson and Van Gisbergen to pull out some big tackles, Dawson pulling down Chabal breaking from the scrum, and Van Gisbergen upending Sale scrum half Martens after he broke clear into Wasps twenty two with only the Wasps full back to beat.
The pressure led to penalties however, and Hodgson converted two more penalties in the 60th and 74th minutes to pull his side clear as the game came to a close.
Wasps were still looking to play positively to the end however, in an attack in the 78th minute, replacement fly half Brooks found Lewsey with the miss pass, but the crucial final pass to Van Gisbergen went to ground and Wasps timing seemed just a little off, and though Tom Voyce continued to look hungry in attack to the last, Sale had done enough to grind out the win.
After the game, Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan acknowledged that Wasps had lacked cohesion. 'We didn't build well, gave them easy ball from the set piece and they capitalised on our errors. We didn't execute as well as we usually do and the game was played at the wrong end of the field, which was three point territory for Sale - that says it all. They were very effective at what they did.
'We could have really made an impact in the ten minutes after we scored and I'm disappointed we didn't do that. If we had, we could have put some doubts into Sale minds, but we didn't put ourselves in a position to feed those doubts.'
Coach Shaun Edwards was similarly pragmatic. 'We should have kept it tighter and built to score. When we did, we scored.
'We do like to play an exciting brand of rugby, but we found it difficult tonight with this particular referee. However, we've now got to take this on the chin and re-group for the Heineken Cup.'
Despite the disappointment, Edwards was full of praise for winger Tom Voyce, saying 'Voyce was the outstanding back on the pitch tonight. Absolutely stand out, and competing until the last second of the match.'
Captain Lawrence Dallaglio was disappointed with the loss, but pleased with his own improvement in work rate. 'I felt much better around the pitch tonight, the ankle felt much better and I was pleased with that'
About the game he was more circumspect, 'Sale didn't set out to play a lot of rugby tonight. When they do, they tend to come off second best against us, so they kept it tight, kicked their goals and got the win.'