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Exeter had three tries on the board after 50 minutes but from that point on, Wasps dug deep to produce some exciting rugby which deserved more than the solitary consolation try scored by replacement lock Mike Powell, right at the death.
Exeter took an early lead after Wasps failed to roll away from a breakdown a few metres inside their own half. Exeter captain Gareth Steenson made no mistake with the penalty. Ryan Davis then put the restart out on the full, but a powerful Wasps drive from the resultant scrum produced a penalty, and the Wasps flyhalf, up against his old club, was on target to level the scores.
Exeter then threatened after Steenson’s penalty found touch inside the Wasps 22. The forwards won the lineout, and drove several metres towards the line, before releasing the ball to the backs. Steenson hoisted a kick towards the right touchline, but it went over the head of right winger Bryan Rennie.
Exeter continued to press, and came close to scoring in the left corner, before Wasps won a precious turnover on their own line. While they were waiting to release the ball, Exeter withdrew all their forwards, but former Wasps hooker Chris Whitehead sneaked around the fringe and was penalised for offside.
Exeter were back in front after 12 minutes, when Steenson landed an easy penalty, after the Wasps scrum was penalised, right in front of their posts. It took just three minutes for Wasps to level the scores, after a run by skipper Charlie Davies, following a lineout near the Exeter 22. The forwards arrived in support, to take play up to the line, where the visitors conceded a penalty, and Davis landed another straightforward kick, to make the score 6-6.
Exeter came back strongly, with the first try of the game, after 19 minutes. A series of thrusts down the centre of the field set up the position for the ball to be moved out to the left, and flanker Dave Ewers was on hand to power his way over, near the corner. Steenson made it 13-6, with a well-judged conversion.
Wasps then began to find a little more cohesion, with Billy Vunipola, returning after nearly five months out of action, showing his ball-carrying ability. They controlled possession inside the Exeter half for several minutes, until new signing Lee Robinson came into the line with a powerful angled run into the Exeter 22. The visitors were caught offside at the breakdown, and Davis’s third penalty narrowed the gap to four points, with thirteen minutes of normal time left before the break.
Six minutes before halftime, the visitors went further ahead with a try set up by a powerful scrum, inside the Wasps 22. Scrumhalf Pat Phibbs broke to the right, and went through the first line of defence, before sending fullback Myles Dorrian over, near the posts. Steenson added the conversion, which made the score 20-9.
Four minutes later, that became 23-9, when Wasps transgressed in front of their posts, and Steenson landed another easy kick to give his side a halftime lead which was a fair reflection of the first 40 minutes. The advantage of fielding a strong side of regular squad players had enabled them to play with greater fluency and assurance than the unfamiliar looking Wasps side had been able to produce.
Wasps made two changes at the start of the second half, with Ashley Smith (a third debutant) and Simon McIntyre replacing Charlie Ingall and Jeremy Castex.
Needing a bonus point to strengthen their semifinal chances, the visitors turned down two kickable penalties, early in the second half. The second produced a lineout in the right corner, from which a series of drives threatened to produce a third try, before a knockon gave Wasps a scrum, from which Charlie Davies found touch, on his ten-metre line.
It was a brief respite, as Exeter continued to stretch the defence, until replacement Ally Muldowney went over near the right corner. Steenson’s unerring boot was again on target with a fine conversion, stretching the lead to 30-9, after 50 minutes.
Further Wasps replacements saw Nathan Morris and Joe Burton come on for Tom Lindsay and Billy Vunipola. They were soon joined by Will Robinson, who replaced Ryan Davis, to make his Adams Park debut. Despite the heavy deficit, Wasps continued to show plenty of spirit, and came tantalisingly close to a try, after a powerful forward drive seemed certain to cross the line, but was stopped just inches short.
A well-placed kick by Will Robinson then bounced into the arms of his namesake Lee, but the winger was unable to hang on, as the tackle came in, just outside the 22. Then came a daring counterattacking run by Jack Wallace, down the right wing. Several passes later, play had come back infield, and Wasps recycled again, only for the movement to end with a forward pass.
With all their substitutes now on, they came close to the consolation try their spirit had deserved, when McIntyre charged downfield. Joe Burton kept the movement alive, and was stopped by a desperate last-ditch tackle, before Bob Baker made a burst for the line, only to be stopped just short. Several close-range thrusts were followed, but the long passage of play came to a disappointing end, when Wasps failed to release, inside the Exeter 22.
The consolation try finally came in the final minute of normal time, when Mike Powell raced nearly half the length of the field for a superb score, which Will Robinson converted. There was still time for another powerful run by Joe Burton, before the final whistle went.
Wasps complete their LV= Cup pool programme next Saturday, when they travel to Northampton Saints.
The following weekend, it’s back to Aviva Premiership action, when Saracens visit Adams Park on Sunday, the 12th of February.
Wasps: 15 Jack Wallace 14 Lee Robinson 13 Alex Cheeseman 12 Chris Mayor 11 Charlie Ingall 10 Ryan Davis 9 Charlie Davies (c) 1 Zak Taulafo 2 Tom Lindsay 3 Jeremy Castex 4 Heinz Koll 5 Ed O’Donoghue 6 Tinus Du Plessis 7 James Harris 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Nathan Morris 17 Bob Baker 18 Simon McIntyre 19 Mike Powell 20 Joe Burton 21 Jonah Holmes 22 Will Robinson 23 Ashley Smith
Exeter: 15 Myles Dorrian 14 Bryan Rennie 13 Phil Dollman 12 Sam Hill 11 Mark Foster 10 Gareth Steenson (capt) 9 Pat Phibbs 1 Hoani Tui 2 Chris Whitehead 3 Craig Mitchell 4 Peter Short 5 James Hanks 6 Dave Ewers 7 Ben White 8 James Phillips
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott 17 Luke Cowan-Dickie 18 Chris Budgen 19 Chris Bentley 20 Ally Muldowney 21 Junior Poluleuligaga 22 Jack Arnott 23 Sam Jones