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It was a bitterly frustrating way for the season at Adams Park to end and Wasps' hopes of Heineken Cup rugby next season were brought to an emphatic end by a dominant Exeter side, who controlled the game, almost from start to finish.
Wasp spurned a golden opportunity to take the lead inside the opening minute as Exeter gathered Stephen Jones’s kick-off, inside their 22, and tried to play their way up the field.
After several phases, with just over 30 seconds gone, they were penalised in front of the posts. To the astonishment of everybody in the ground, Jones sent his kick wide.
A minute later, Andrea Masi went through a gap in midfield and sent Elliot Daly away down the left. He had Tom Varndell outside him as he entered the 22, but delayed his pass and it failed to find the winger.
Wasps finally went ahead in the sixth minute when Daly landed a penalty from 45 metres, around 15 metres in from the right touchline.
Exeter then set the alarm bells ringing, after winining a lineout just inside their half. Gareth Steenson broke the defensive line with worrying ease. He went clear and seemed certain to score, until Christian Wade tackled him from behind, to prevent the try. Exeter retained possession, and the forwards managed to cross the line, but were unable to ground the ball. They had to be content with a penalty, almost in front of the posts, and Steenson levelled the scores, with ten minutes gone.
The visitors took the lead after thirteen minutes, when the ball squirted out of a breakdown, with Wasps on the attack, 40 metres out. Lock Damian Welch charged downfield, and made at least 40 metres, before the cover stopped him. Support was on hand, the ball was spun out to the left, and hooker Jack Yeandle went over near the corner. Steenson added the extra points, with a fine kick.
Eight minutes later, Exeter added a second try, again from a lineout. They threw the ball long, it was taken at the rear, and wing Jack Nowell came in to take a short pass and race in from 40 metres. Steenson’s conversion stretched the lead to 17-3.
A minute later, scrumhalf Haydn Thomas sneaked through a gap on the blindside to launch another threatening attack, which took play into the Wasps 22. Wasps conceded a free-kick at the scrum, Exeter opted for another scrum which produced another simple penalty for Steenson to put the visitors 20-3 ahead.
Wasps exploded into life on the half-hour, after winning a lineout inside the Exeter 22. Joe Launchbury’s thrust took them over the gain line, the ball was recycled, and Christian Wade came in from his wing to a dart through a gap and beat the final defender to go over between the posts, for his 11th Premiership try of the season, which Stephen Jones converted.
Almost from the restart, Jones produced a powerful run, to make 30 metres into the Exeter half. The ball was moved out to the right, where Wade raced away, to be stopped a few metres short. Wasps won a kickable penalty, but chose to go for the corner. They won the lineout, but conceded a penalty, allowing Exeter to lift the siege.
Once back in the Wasps half, they produced a powerful scrum, which yielded a penalty, 30 metres out, and 15 in from the right touchline. Steenson’s kick dropped just short, and was gathered by Joe Simpson, under intense pressure from the chasers. They were penalised, and Wasps were able to clear the danger.
Inside the final minute of the half, Wasps served up another reminder of their attacking threat, when Christian Wade came into the line to launch an attack from just outside the 22. Quick passing gave Tom Varndell the chance to stretch his legs down the left, but he was unable to get clear of the defence, and was forced into touch. The halftime whistle came, with Wasps ten points down - a fair reflection of a half in which they had enjoyed plenty of territory, but Exeter had made better use of fewer opportunities and made the most of Wasps’ errors.
It took just over a minute of the second half for the visitors to tighten their grip on the game, when Damian Welch was sent charging in from 30 metres, steamrollering through a tackle to go over near the posts. Steenson had the simplest of tasks to add the extra two points.
With the game drifting away from them, Wasps mounted several minutes of pressure, in which Christian Wade came close to a second try, and a series of penalties ended with Exeter flanker James Scaysbrook being sent to the sin bin.
Wasps took immediate advantage of his dismissal, as they won a scrum near the left corner. The ball was moved out along the backs, Elliot Daly came into the line,. and his long pass sent replacement Hugo Southwell, who'd come on for Andrea Masi, in for a well-worked try, which Jones converted.
From the kickoff, Tom Varndell leapt high to gather the ball, and did well to slip round the chasers and make 30 metres down the left, before being stopped. Exeter won possession and were awarded a penalty, a few metres inside the Wasps half. Steenson went for the posts, but his kick was just wide.
Within a couple of minutes, the visitors had secured a bonus point, when Hayden Thomas stole over near the posts. Steenson had another simple conversion, to put his side 34-17 ahead.
Wasps now had no option but to throw the ball around, and they came close through a powerful run by James Haskell, shortly before he made way for Sam Jones.
They again came close with a move down the right, which set up an overlap, but Chris Bell dropped Rhys Thomas's pass, with Christian Wade outside him.
Steenson added another penalty, to stretch the lead to 20 points, and the closing minutes saw a steady flow of replacements, from both sides.
Exeter spent the last five minutes of the game hammering away at the Wasps defence, but they were unable to add a fifth try, and it was left to Wasps to produce the final score of the day, when Charlie Davies broke from his 22 to sent Tom Varndell in for his 13th Premiership try of the season, from 60 metres. Tommy Bell's conversion was the final act of the day.
Wasps team: 15. Elliot Daly 14. Christian Wade 13. Andrea Masi 12. Chris Bell (capt.)11. Tom Varndell 10. Stephen Jones 9. Joe Simpson 1. Zak Taulafo 2. T Rhys Thomas 3. Phil Swainston 4. Joe Launchbury 5 Tom Palmer 6. Ashley Johnson 7. James Haskell 8. Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay 17. Will Taylor 18. Simon McIntyre 19. Marco Wentzel 20. Sam Jones
21. Charlie Davies 22. Tommy Bell 23. Hugo Southwell
Exeter: 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 Jack Yeandle 3 Hoani Tui 4 Dean Mumm 5 Damian Welch
6 Ben White 7 James Scaysbrook 8 Richard Baxter (capt)
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead 17 Carl Rimmer 18 Craig Mitchell 19 Aly Muldowney 20 Dave Ewers
21 Will Chudley 22 Henry Slade 23 Ian Whi