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Sackey helps Wasps to victory with well worked try
The ten point victory denied Phillipe Saint Andre's team any recompense whatsoever for their trouble, prompting the unhappy Sharks Director of Rugby to comment after the match that 'In the second half we played our best rugby of the year, but we came away with nothing except injuries.'
The comment plays tribute to the intensity with which both sides played in a game which certainly took its physical toll. Sale had utilised their entire contingent of replacement forwards by the 49th minute, and Wasps were dealt a severe blow when Phil Vickery had to be helped from the pitch with a serious knee injury on the half hour which could put an end to his season.
Vickery twisted awkwardly as he was tackled off balance, and went down for several minutes before being taped up and heading for a scrum. That proved to be his last action of the game however, and the club will now await the result of scans to confirm the extent of his injury.
When Vickery departed, Wasps were 7-3 to the good after Tom Voyce had picked off a long pass from the counter-attacking Ben Foden and sprinted forty yards to put his team ahead. It was Voyce's second try in as many games since returning from injury against Worcester last Saturday. Cipriani added the conversion, the first of another 19 point haul for the Wasps fly half, though he had missedan earlier penalty attempt in the sixth minute, Charlie Hodgson having got Sale off the mark a minute earlier.
At this point Wasps were edging the game in terms of possession and attacking quality. Sackey had had two good runs down the right flank before Vickery's departure, and then Sale's best move of the half, which saw McAlister float a ball out to Ripol in space, quickly turned to defence as, faced with the covering Paul Sackey, the Sharks winger chose to cut back inside. Wasps attacked the breakdown and Waters was quick to the turnover ball, his dummy setting up Ibanez for a break to half way. With Sale at sixes and sevens in defence however, Haskell just overran Reddan's pop that could have seen Wasps make a further impact on the scoreboard.
There was consolation in a penalty for the home side however and Cipriani, having missed his first two penalty attempts, made no mistake with this one to give Wasps a 10-3 lead at half time.
James Haskell forces his way through the Sale defence.
Despite McAlister posing a potent attacking threat at the start of the second half, it was Wasps who scored next. Pouncing on a mistake as Ripol spilled the ball in a tackle, Sackey showed what a handful he is these day by busting three of four Sale tackles from a standing start before finally being brought down well into the attacking 22. Poor handling meant Wasps lost momentum as the ball moved wide to the left flank, but thing got a lot slicker when it came back in the opposite direction, Cipriani, Flutey and Waters zipping possession back to Sackey, who scored the try.
The score underlined the winger's overall contribution, which earned him the Man of the Match Award at the final whistle, pipping other contenders James Haskell, who has tightened up his game well of late, and captain Raphael Ibanez, who led from the front with some excellent carries and accurate throwing in, helping Wasps to a 100% return on their line out for the night.
With Wasps now 17-3 ahead, Sharks took tactical action, and with the introduction of England scrum half Richard Wigglesworth turned the tables their favour. Wigglesworth revitalised the Sale effort with quick service that upped the tempo of the game, forcing Wasps to concede a series of penalties, the second of which was accompanied by a yellow card for replacement back rower, Joe Worsley. Hodgson slotted two out of his three chances, and a man to the good, Sale put together their most dynamic attack of the night. Strong approach work from the forwards had Wasps on the back foot and after Cueto came close, Foden's nifty footwork allowed him to get the better of Josh Lewsey to score. A conversion brought Sharks back to 20-16, Cipriani having slotted a tricky penalty prior to Foden's try, and already in bonus point territory, the visitors were going well.
The tension was rising as both fly halves exchanged penalties, and then with ten minutes remaining a Josh Lewsey break sparked an exciting passage of Wasps attack, the pressure resulting in a penalty in front of the posts for Cipriani.
Trailing 26-19, Sale were still heading for the bonus point that would have kept them in the Premiership top four, ahead of Wasps though equal on points, but Cipriani had found his kicking boots after the patchy start and that was to prove their undoing. Faced with a kick from just inside his Sale's half, he was then forced to hurry his approach after the ball fell over on the tee. But, as Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan highlighted after the game, 'The more pressure you put on Danny, the better he gets' as his young charge gave the ball a good belt and it crawled over the bar to give Wasps a ten point lead.
Though that wrapped up the scoring, there was still time for Wasps to demonstrate once again their defensive pedigree in the final five minutes. Sale attacked and threw everything at it, but found themselves going backwards ' a good thirty metres - as McGeechan's men demonstrated once again the spirit and determination that has earned them 31 from a possible 35 points in their last seven Premiership outings.
Voyce crosses the line for the opening try.
The run of seven wins beats this season's best of six on the bounce, set by Bath at the start of the season ' a run ended by Wasps at Adams Park on 29th December - and coaches Ian McGeechan and Shaun Edwards both paid tribute to the mettle of both sets of players for their performance:
'That was a great game of Premiership rugby,' said McGeechan. 'It was competitive, hard, and nip and tuck all the way. I think we've been playing consistently well for a while now, it's just that people haven't noticed, and I think the fact that we've only lost one Premiership game since the Rugby World Cup Final reflects the tremendous spirit of the players.
'I still think the three games we won during the Six Nations, when we were without eight regular first teamers, set the tone for the rest of the season. When those internationals came back to us, they were coming back to a winning team and everyone had to work really hard to earn their place in the side.'
Looking ahead to the remaining four games, McGeechan said 'We've got to keep working hard, and for us it is all about looking at our performance game by game. The players worked very hard tonight and I am proud of them. That last defensive set had Sale going back 30 metres, and that shows the determination of this side.
'The other significant factor tonight was our 100% return in the line out. When a game is nip and tuck, as this one was, getting the edge in the set piece can be critical, and success like that can really make the difference between the sides.'
On Man of the Match Sackey, McGeechan said, 'Shaun and I both believe Paul's game has gone up a level in the last two seasons. If you create an opportunity for him, he takes it, and if it's not there he will make it. It's great to have a 'go to' player like him on the outside.'
On Cipriani, whose second successive 19 point haul was decisive in the win, Head Coach Shaun Edwards said, 'Danny succeeded with some real pressure kicks in the second half. When he had to reset the one from half way, then I knew he'd be fine ' the more pressure, the better he performs - and that's why he will hopefully be an international player for many years to come.'
MOTM: Paul Sackey