Wasps owed their victory to an impressive forward display, typically gritty defence, a magnificent try by MOTM Ben Jacobs and a 100% return from the boot of Danny Cipriani. He landed six kicks out of kick, one of them from halfway and another a fine conversion of Jacobs’s spectacular breakaway try.
The early exchanges contained some promising signs from the Wasps forwards – strong scrummaging, some powerful drives and a reliable lineout. The home side took the lead with Jacobs’s glorious try, after 14 minutes. It was created by Tom Varndell, who gathered a kick ahead near his own line, beat two attackers and raced away down the touchline. He found Jacobs in support and the pair exchanged passes before the centre crashed over near the corner. Danny Cipriani added the extra points with a fine kick.
The next scoring opportunity didn’t come until the 26th minute, when Charlie Hodgson landed a long-range penalty, to open his side’s account.
Five minutes later, Dan Ward-Smith showed his pace and strength with a powerful burst from the base of a scrum on halfway. With a promising position developing, he passed to Warren Fury, but the ball dropped just behind him. Sale immediately produced their first attacking threat, with Ben Cohen’s strong run down the centre of the field, but the defence was back in time to cut him off from any support just outside the Wasps 22.
With five minutes of the half left, Hodgson’s second penalty from near the posts narrowed the gap to a single point.
In the final minute of the half, Cipriani unleashed the backs with a bullet-like pass off his left hand. Jacobs wriggled his way into the Sale 22, where the visitors conceded a penalty in front of their own posts and Cipriani landed the easiest of kicks to make the half-time score 10-6.
The Wasps pack began the second half with another powerful scrum, which led to a penalty just inside the Sale half and Cipriani was on target with another excellent kick to make it 13-6 five minutes after the break. Five minutes later, the fly half stretched the lead to 16-6, with another fine kick from near the left touchline.
Sale responded immediately, when Mark Van Gisbergen was beaten by an awkward bounce inside his 22 following a long kick downfield. Substitute prop Gavin Kerr was following up and gathered the ball to go over unopposed. Hodgson’s conversion brought the score to 16-13 with 14 minutes of the half played.
Wasps then made their first substitution of the day, when Will Matthews came on for skipper Serge Betsen, who had taken a knock early in the game. Matthews immediately caught the eye, with a deft pickup off his toes, before Sale conceded another penalty 43 metres out and Cipriani kept up his 100% record, with another sweetly-struck kick making it 19-13 to Wasps after 59 minutes.
With 13 minutes left, Dave Walder replaced Van Gisbergen, who’d had another fine game looking solid under the high ball, and launching several counterattacks, with his characteristic jinking runs. Wasps immediately piled on the pressure and a long Cipriani penalty to the corner set up a storming forward drive, stopped only by Eifion Lewis-Roberts killing the ball and being sent to the sin bin. Wasps opted for a scrum, and another strong shove sent Sale back over their line but the ball was knocked on. Wasps were penalised at the resultant scrum to the anger of the increasingly vocal home crowd.
Varndell then fielded a high kick on the halfway line, to launch a counterattack in which Walder combined well with Ben Jacobs to take play into the Sale 22. The visitors were caught offside, right in front of the posts and Cipriani’s fifth successful penalty gave Wasps a nine-point cushion, with eight minutes left. Another Wasps substitution brought Bob Baker on to the field in place of Ben Broster.
With time running out Sale were chasing the bonus point and one superb run by Hodgson took them close to a try. With two minutes left he was on target with a fine drop goal to secure that point. There was just time for another explosive burst by Ward-Smith before the final whistle marked an important victory.
Wasps are at Adams Park again next Sunday, when the visitors will be high-flying Saracens. The game kicks off at 3pm.