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After twice leading, in a lively first half performance, Wasps were eventually overcome by a much improved second half showing from the home side. They looked set to be going away empty-handed, but Tommy Bell’s last-minute penalty secured a bonus point. Exeter took an early lead with a Gareth Steenson penalty in the third minute, after sustained pressure, which began when Joe Simpson’s attempted clearance kick was charged down, deep inside his 22.
Wasps responded immediately, after Billy Vunipola took a quick tap from a free-kick 35 metres outside the home 22. His powerful run led to a penalty, in front of the posts, and Lee Thomas levelled the scores, with a simple kick.
An incisive run by right winger Jack Nowell set the home crowd running. He made a good 30 metres, before being stopped on the 22. Steenson chipped into space, near the right corner, but he put too much on the ball, and Hugo Southwell was able to touch down for a 22.
A minute later, Steenson’s boot put his side back in front, when he landed a 45-metre penalty. Wasps again responded well, and a quick attack from a scrum just outside the home 22 set up a chance for Tom Varndell, but he was unable to hold Hugo Southwell’s pass, five metres from the line.
Varndell then came desperately close to a score, at the end of an attack set up by a fine run by Lee Thomas. He took play deep into the Exeter 22. Quick ball gave Nick Robinson the chance to send a chip towards the left corner, and the winger came within a whisker of touching down, before the ball went dead.
A minute later, Wasps went ahead, with a superb try by Elliot Daly. Billy Vunipola made a characteristic charge down the middle, and Daly was on hand to collect his offload, 40 metres out, before accelerating away and producing deft footwork to round fullback Luke Arscott and dive over in the corner. Lee Thomas added the extra points with a magnificent conversion.
On 22 minutes, Thomas stretched the lead to 13-6, with his second penalty. One area where Exeter had been on the top was in the scrum, but the Wasps eight turned the tables with a fine scrum of their own, on their ten metres line. Nick Robinson’s penalty set up an attacking lineout on the 22, and Wasps won possession, but the ball was spilt in midfield.
It proved a costly error, as Gareth Steenson’s break, from the scrum, split the Wasps defence. He fed Luke Arscott, who shook off Christian Wade’s attempted tackle, and a try seemed certain, before Joe Simpson pulled off a wonderful last-ditch tackle, a few metres out. Unfortunately, he was then shown a yellow card, for not rolling away. Exeter chose to take a scrum, and a powerful drive took them over the Wasps line, with ex-Wasp Chris Whitehead applying the final touch.
Steenson’s conversion levelled the scores, but Wasps were soon back in front, with Tom Varndell’s 9th try of the season, set up by Christian Wade. He popped up at a breakdown near the left touchline, just inside the Exeter half. He snapped up a loose ball and accelerated through a tackle, before feeding Varndell, who had a clear run in from just outside the 22. Thomas was again on target with the conversion, from a few metres in from touch.
Varndell then produced a fine piece of defensive work, to save a try, after a fine Exeter attack from deep. Arscott chipped ahead, and Varndell just got back to touch down, ahead of the chasers. It was only a brief respite, as Exeter scrumhalf Haydn Thomas made the most of Simpson’s absence, to dart around the resultant scrum and dive over between the posts. Steenson’s simple conversion levelled the scores again, and halftime came with the score at 20-20, after a hugely entertaining opening half.
Two minutes into the second half, James Scaybrook came within inches of Exeter’s third try, being stopped by a combined tackle, right on the line. The referee had been playing advantage, and went back for a penalty, back towards the right touchline. Steenson’s kick hit the left post, and bounced back into play, but Wasps somehow managed to gather, and clear to touch.
Exeter kept up the pressure, but Wasps won a turnover inside their 22, and Nick Robinson’s long clearance took his side into the Exeter 22 for the first time in the half. It was a short stay, as they were penalised at the lineout.
A Robinson penalty then took Wasps back to the Exeter 22, but they lost the lineout, and Jack Nowell burst through their midfield. He kicked ahead, and was taken out off the ball, a few metres inside the Wasps half. The penalty was awarded where the ball landed, deep inside the Wasps 22, and Elliot Daly was shown a yellow card, for the late challenge. Steenson made no mistake with the kick, and Exeter were back in front, after 13 minutes of the half, with rain beginning to sweep across Sandy Park.
Exeter stepped up the pressure, and a series of drives almost took them over the Wasps line, before they were penalised, and Robinson’s clearance found touch on the Wasps ten metre line.
Wasps made their first substitutions on the hour, when Sam Jones came on for Jonathan Poff, and Simon McIntyre replaced Zak Taulafo.
With the final minutes of Daly’s sin binning ticking away, Exeter launched a sustained onslaught, and the Wasps defence was stretched to the limit. They seemed to have weathered the storm, until Jason Shoemark sent a perfectly placed kick to the right corner, where his fellow centre Phil Dollman was unmarked, and gathered to dive over for a crucial score, which Steenson converted, with a fine kick, to give his side a 30-20 lead, with a quarter of an hour left.
Andrea Masi then replaced Nick Robinson, with Lee Thomas moving in to fly half, but Thomas then took a knock in a Wasps attack, and had to be helped from the field, clearly carrying an injury to his left leg. His place was taken by Tommy Bell, and Will Taylor then came on for Phil Swainston.
Wasps almost snatched a sensational breakaway try, when Hugo Southwell showed magnificent handling to pluck a Steenson kick out of the air, and race away down the left, combining with Varndell. The winger was brought down just outside the 22. As play continued, Wasps were awarded a penalty which could have brought a bonus point, but Billy Vunipola chose to take a quick tap, and the movement ended in a penalty to the home side.
In the final minute, a strong scrum produced a Wasps penalty, just outside the home 22. This time, there was no quick tap, and Tommy Bell landed the kick, which ensured that Wasps did not go away empty-handed.
European rugby takes centre stage for the next two weeks. Next Saturday evening, Wasps are away to Bayonne, in round 3 of the Amlin Challenge Cup. The return encounter, at Adams Park, takes place on the evening of Thursday, December the 13th.
15 Hugo Southwell 14 Tom Varndell 13 Elliot Daly 12 Lee Thomas 11 Christian Wade 10 Nick Robinson 9 Joe Simpson 1 Zak Taulafo 2 T Rhys Thomas 3 Phil Swainston 4 Tom Palmer 5 Marco Wentzel 6 Ashley Johnson 7 Jonathan Poff 8 Billy Vunipola
16 Tom Lindsay 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Will Taylor 19 James Cannon 20 Sam Jones 21 Charlie Davies 22 Tommy Bell 23 Andrea Masi
15 Luke Arscott 14 Jack Nowell 13 Phil Dollman 12 Jason Shoemark 11 Matt Jess 10 Gareth Steenson 9 Haydn Thomas 1 Brett Sturgess 2 Chris Whitehead 3 Carl Rimmer 4 Tom Hayes (capt) 5 James Hanks 6 Dean Mumm 7 James Scaysbrook 8 Richard Baxter
16 Simon Alcott 17 Ben Moon 18 Hoani Tui 19 Aly Muldowney 20 Tom Johnson 21 Kevin Barrett 22 Ignacio Mieres 23 Sireli Naqelevuki
Picture Credit: Exeter Chiefs Rugby/Pinnacle Photography