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London Wasps came second in a kicking competition last night, but as a game of rugby it was pretty even, as both teams struggled to create chances in the face of well-organised and tenacious defence.
All 30 points came from the boot, Sale fly half Daniel Larrechea slotting four penalties and a drop goal while his replacement Lee Thomas adding their final three.
Jeremy Staunton clocked up three penalties of his own for Wasps, whilst Dave Walder, on for Alex King at fly half, snatched a last gasp bonus point for his team with a drop goal in the 80th minute - the final action of the match.
The weekend's other results - a win for Gloucester over Saracens and Newcastle over Bristol at the top of the table - mean that Wasps slip to fourth place behind Gloucester, Bristol and Sale.
Meanwhile back at Stockport, both packs tested each other out in the early stages. There was plenty of driving in the maul, and Wasps contained Sale's efforts well. As a result the home side reverted to playing around the fringes, bringing their back row giants Sebastian Chabal and Jason White into the game.
Jeremy Staunton had got Wasps on the board first, slotting his second penalty attempt after 8 minutes for a 3-0 lead, but it was a White charge up the middle that offered the first threat of danger from either side and led to a penalty that allowed Larrechea to even the scores after 12 minutes.
Chabal matched his No6 with a similar thumping charge to get his team within kicking range again. As the pressure came on, Wasps conceded and Larrechea obliged, Sale 6-3 in front at the end of the first quarter.
Wasps stirred themselves into action, and a break from Fraser Waters got them behind the midfield defence, and as Sale covered across Wasps kept the ball alive well with some good handling to silence the critics of their past two performances and give themselves a good attacking scrum five metres out. Alex King was almost through as Wasps hammered at the line, but Sale weathered the storm and won a turnover to get themselves out of trouble.
Staunton levelled the scored after a towering Tom Voyce up and under forced a fumble and penalty for holding on from makeshift Sale wing, Ben Foden, but the equity was short-lived.
Jason Robinson had showed his intent early on, fast footwork and wriggling runs in evidence already, and as he stood up Wasps tacklers with his elusive path through the middle on the half hour, the defence again infringed to allow Larrechea to nudge Sale ahead again.
Wasps put pressure on themselves shortly before half time when Ayoola Erinle made a mess of gathering a Sale punt downfield. On the back foot, the Wasps defence failed to retreat ten after a quick penalty tap from Foden, allowing Larrechea to attempt a monster penalty from just inside his half that fell just centimetres short, landing instead on the post protector. Despite that miss Sale had the last word of the half however, Larrechea dropping into the pocket as his big men bashed up into Wasps 22, and popping over a drop goal to end the half 12-6 to the good.
Phil Vickery started the second half for Wasps in place of Peter Bracken, who was sporting an impressive shiner. Jeremy Staunton clawed three points back for Wasps early in the second half and Wasps were scrapping well at the breakdown - lead by the fresh feistiness of Vickery - but indiscipline gave Larrechea another chance at three points, which he took to edge Sharks away to 15-9 after 50 minutes.
Staunton missed a chance to close the gap as the game entered the final quarter, and as Sale drew confidence from having their noses in front it looked like they were starting to get the upper hand. Wasps kept their shape and continued to work hard in defence, though indiscipline handed Thomas another penalty chance for Sale in the 72nd minute, and his successful kick pretty much sealed Wasps fate as Sharks moved nine points ahead and out of touching distance.
Wasps continued to look for their chances, but things seemed to be against them. Voyce palmed a clearance back into play as Wasps looked to counter, but referee Chris White - who had an impeccable game - adjudged his effort forward. Then Eoin Reddan, looking for his chance, went for a quick penalty but fumbled the pick up and again White blew for a knock on. Next the visitors launched a final attack up the left, Erinle charging forward into the Sale 22, but Wasps conceded a turn over. A final charge into the Sale 22 however, allowed Walder to snap up his chance and ensure Wasps did not leave Stockport entirely empty handed.
After the game Ian McGeechan felt his side probably deserved more for their efforts. 'I don't think there was anything between us to be honest. There were two good defences out there tonight and we just lost out in the penalty stakes, It was as close as that - a draw was probably the fair result, but we missed a couple of chances and at the end that was the difference.
'We were disappointed to give some soft points away in the first half, but I thought we controlled a lot of the second half, though unfortunately you didn't see that on the scoreboard. There were some good attacking players out there tonight, and the fact that nobody was given a really clear-cut chance shows you how tight it was.
On the return of flanker Jonny O'Connor, who was playing his first Premiership game of the season after a long injury lay off, McGeechan said, 'We are very pleased to have Jonny back. He was blowing a bit at the end, but you'd expect that as it was a tough game and the forward exchanges were pretty strong so he was never far away from it.'
Referee: Chris White
MOTM: Jason White