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On a glorious, sunny afternoon at Adams Park, Wasps produced their own brand of sunshine, to end their run of five defeats. 15-0 up at the break, through five Dave Walder penalties, they made a shaky start to the second half, when Sale scored ten unanswered points. They then produced two glorious tries, both involving major contributions from MOTM Richard Haughton, to make the game safe, before a late Sale rally yielded them an unexpected bonus point.
Wasps made a late team change, after Simon Shaw failed a fitness test on a groin injury picked up on international duty. James Cannon took his place in the second row, with Serge Betsen coming on to the bench.
Wasps made an impressive start, with an opening passage of play which lasted nearly two minutes, after Ben Jacobs had done well to gather a high kick on halfway, and launch a sustained attack. It produced a penalty, in front of the posts, and Dave Walder landed a simple kick.
Sale threatened from the restart, but a loose ball gave Joe Simpson the chance to send a long kick downfield, and Richard Haughton’s excellent chase put the defence under pressure. Unfortunately, Nick McLeod’s hurried clearance was knocked on by Joe Worsley, who was in acres of space on halfway.
With Dom Waldouck looking sharp in the centre, there was a snap to Wasps which had been missing in recent weeks, and further pressure forced another penalty, in the 8th minute, and Walder landed another kick from in front of the posts, to make it 6-0.
Three minutes later, it was 9-0, as Walder landed a huge penalty, from just inside the Sale half. Wasps continued to produce some enterprising rugby, and one flowing attack took play to within a few metres of the Sale line, before a sharp pass produced a knockon, and Sale took the opportunity to run the ball from their own 22.
Walder’s kicking let him down, when he overhit a penalty aimed at the corner, and sent it over the dead-ball line, giving Sale a scrum all the way back on half-way. The Wasps forwards were now showing power and drive, with Dan Ward-Smith particularly prominent, on his comeback from injury. Walder’s 24th minute penalty took him past 1,000 Premiership points, to make it 12-0, and he added a further three points, two minutes later, after an offence which resulted in Sale flanker Neil McMillan being sent to the sin bin. .
Sadly, Waldouck was then forced to leave the field, clearly struggling with a leg injury which had required lengthy treatment, minutes earlier. Nic Berry took his place, with Joe Simpson moving from scrumhalf to the wing, and Ben Jacobs taking up his usual position, in the centre. Almost immediately, Simpson set the crowd roaring, as he raced away down the left, rounded Tom Brady, and seemed certain to score a spectacular try, only to be called back for putting a foot in touch.
As the half went into injury time, Sale almost snatched a surprise try, completely against the run of play, after Charlie Hodgson’s towering kick caused confusion between David Lemi and the previously impeccable Richard Haughton. The ball bounced into the arms of Wasps-bound Chris Bell, who seemed certain to score, before he was pulled down just short of the line, by a magnificent cover tackle by Joe Simpson. Sale had the put-in to an attacking scrum, but Haughton’s strong tackle forced a turnover, and Dan Ward-Smith showed his athletic ability, to race nearly fifty metres. Halftime came with Wasps deservedly ahead, after forty minutes of complete domination, which had produced some thrilling rugby, but failed to produce the try which their efforts had deserved.
Needing an early score to get back into the game, Sale began the half impressively, and sustained pressure took play through several phases, before they created an overlap, and Ben Cohen strolled over on the left. Charlie Hodgson landed a superb kick from the touchline. Zak Taulafo came on on for Ben Broster. Twelve minutes into the half, the gap was narrowed to just five points. With the game now poised, Wasps showed composure, to control the ball for a series of phases, to take play deep into the 22. With the referee playing advantage, Dave Walder dropped a neat goal. Almost immediately, Walder spotted the chance to counterattack near his own line. He threw a long pass out to Haughton, who combined with Joe Simpson, out on the left. He raced away, before slipping an inside pass to Riki Flutey, who had a clear run in, for a magnificent try. Walder added the extra points, to make it 25-10, after 55 minutes. Hodgson pulled three points back with another penalty, three minutes later.
Skipper Richard Birkett made way for Joe Launchbury and Sale came close to a second try, when slick handling sent Nick McLeod clear. A try seemed certain, but he lost his footing, just short of the line, and the ball spilled from his grasp. Another Hodgson penalty made the score 25-16, with seventeen minutes to play.
The next Wasps replacement saw Riki Flutey leave the field, with Andy Powell entering the action. Walder then kept up his 100% record with a 40-metre penalty, in the 67th minute. A limping Joe Worsley was the next to depart, with Serge Betsen taking his place.
Wasps made the game safe with another magnificent try, created by Richard Haughton, with a superb counterattacking. He gathered the ball, deep inside his own half, cut infield and raced through a gap to send Joe Simpson racing clear, to go over in the corner. Walder’s unsuccessful conversion attempt was the first missed kick of the afternoon, and then kept themselves in contention, with a 73rd minute try by replacement Wame Lewaravu, converted by Hodgson.
The fly-half then landed a monster penalty, from just inside his own half, to put his side in bonus point range. Wasps kept their cool, and safely negotiated the closing minutes, to secure a welcome win, ahead of a three-week break before the Aviva Premiership resumes at Northampton, on March the 28th.
15 Richard Haughton
14 Ben Jacobs
13 Dominic Waldouck
12 Riki Flutey
11 David Lemi
10 Dave Walder
9 Joe Simpson
1 Tim Payne
2 Joe Ward
3 Ben Broster
4 James Cannon
5 Richard Birkett (c)
6 John Hart
7 Joe Worsley
8 Dan Ward-Smith
16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Bob Baker, 18 Zak Taulafo, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Andy Powell, 21 Nic Berry, 22 Mark van Gisbergen, 23 Serge Betsen
15 Nick McLeod 14 Tom Brady 13 Chris Bell 12 Kyle Tonetti 11 Ben Cohen 10 Charlie Hodgson 9 Will Cliff 1 Lee Imiolek 3 Henry Thomas 4 Chris Jones 5 Sean Cox 6 James Gaskell (c) 7 Neil McMillan 8 Sisa Koyamaibole
Replacements: 16 Aston Croall 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Jack Forster 19 Warne Lewaravu 20 Nic Rouse 21 Chris Leck 22 Anitelea Tuilagi 23 Paul Williams