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Wasps had their chances to win the game, but they failed to turn pressure into points, and a losing bonus point came as scant consolation after a dour, rain-affected game.
The opening minutes saw the familiar bouts of aerial ping-pong with an early highlight being a thumping tackle by Serge Betsen on Charlie Hodgson. There were encouraging signs in the scrummage where the Wasps pack put the visitors under immediate pressure, turning them through 180 degrees to win possession just inside their own half and when Walder’s well-judged kick bounced off Mark Cueto, to go into touch near the Sale 22, Wasps won clean possession. Sale were caught offside in midfield, giving Walder a straightforward penalty, putting his side ahead after seven minutes.
Three minutes later, fullback Lachlan Mitchell’s superb catch of a high ball set up another penalty chance for Walder, just inside the Sale half, and the fly half was again on target to make it 6-0.
After Wasps were penalized at a lineout, Hodgson narrowed the gap with a well-struck kick from 40 metres. The home crowd were then incensed by an off-the-ball confrontation between Sale skipper Dean Schofield and Richard Birkett, which saw the Wasps lock leave the field with a cut. Both players were sent to the bin, but the referee awarded a penalty to Wasps just outside the Sale 22 and Walder made it three out of three after 19 minutes.
Four minutes later, another powerful Wasps scrummage took play up to the Sale line and the visitors were penalised. Wasps opted for another scrum and again sent the Sale pack back at a rate of knots resulting in another penalty. A further scrum set up another siege on the line, with both Joe Worsley and Tom Voyce going close, but six minutes of pressure ended in frustration when possession was turned over.
Walder then made a mess of a snatched drop at goal, before Birkett and Schofield returned from the bin. Walder made immediate amends with a towering kick downfield which fullback Nick Macleod could not gather giving Wasps an attacking scrum on the Sale 22. They again failed to control possession, and Luke McAlister made 30 metres, before Josh Lewsey tackled him into touch near halfway.
As the half went into injury time, Lewsey was penalized for a deliberate knock-on, just outside the Wasps 22, and Hodgson’s second successful kick narrowed the gap to three points. But with six minutes of injury time gone, Man of the Match, Walder restored the six-point advantage with a penalty out near the touchline. With a good performance from the home side six points was perhaps not a fair reflection of the way the half had gone as Sale had rarely threatened but it would now be key for Wasps to turn pressure into points.
Mark Van Gisbergen
Making one change at halftime, with Rob Webber replacing skipper Raphael Ibanez who'd taken a bang on the head, a strong wind was behind Sale as the second half began. Hodgson set his side up in a good position with some accurate kicking but thankfully the Wasps lineout was functioning well with Birkett and George Skivington winning consistently good ball to relieve the pressure.
The heavy rain which had fallen before the game now returned just as Pat Barnard, who’d already received lengthy treatment for a bang to his neck, left the field to be replaced by Michael Holford. After a series of forward drives took play out of their 22, Wasps were eventually penalized, just short of the ten metre line but Hodgson missed the difficult kick from near the touchline.
Wasps then stole Sale possession in midfield and Skivington’s run gave Mark Van Gisbergen the chance to send a kick towards the corner, which Sale carried over, giving Wasps another attacking scrum. Sale were penalized and Walder chose to kick to the corner. Wasps won the lineout, and again pressed, but lost possession of the greasy ball. The next Wasps substitution came when John Hart replaced Dan Leo, on 62 minutes. Two minutes later, after a series of drives appeared to be setting Walder up for a drop at goal, Sale were caught offside inside their own 22, but the fly half missed his kick at goal pulling it to the left of the posts.
With eleven minutes left, Walder missed with a much more difficult kick from the left touchline which dropped short. A controversial penalty, when Holford was adjudged offside, after Walder’s hack appeared to come off a Sale player, then gave Hodgson another long-range penalty chance but his kick also fell short. Holford then left the field, to be replaced by Damien Varley. Walder’s 22 dropout was charged down, and the ball bounced dangerously around in the 22, before Sale were awarded a close-range scrum. After winning quick possession, they worked the ball out right, then back left, and Hodgson's pass sent Cueto racing through to touch down near the posts.
Hodgson’s conversion put his side ahead and with four minutes left Wasps threw everything into a desperate attempt to claim the win. It was not to be though and with the time up on the click, a series of drives set up a final drop goal chance for Walder proved fruitless with the game ending in further disappointment despite a much improved performance.
Attention now turns to Newcastle, where Wasps will play at Kingston Park on Friday night, again without the services of their internationals. Although disappointed by today’s result, positives can be pulled from a game which did show promise and improvement and McGeechan’s men must now convert this into points.