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For the third week running, a late rally was not quite enough to bring Wasps their first win of the season.
Wasps went 17 points behind before finding their rhythm to drag that gap to just a point before a late penalty for the home side finished the game.
Wasps looked the more fluent side in the opening minutes, but a promising attack, which took play through numerous phases, was ended when the ball squirted out of a ruck near the Sale 22, and possession was lost.
Two more good positions were lost by knockons. The most threatening came when Sam Jones came on to the ball at pace, to take play deep into the Sale 22 - his second powerful burst of the game.
Wasps were forced into an injury replacement after 12 minutes, when Andrea Masi limped off, after fielding a clearance and attempting to start a counter-attack. He was replaced by Tommy Bell.
With 18 largely uneventful minutes gone, Wasps produced the most dangerous attack of the game, with another patient buildup which used the full width of the pitch. Christian Wade again appeared in midfield, to create an overlap out on the left. The defence managed to , but the ball was moved back infield. A series of phases took play to within a few metres of the line, but another knockon brought the move to a frustrating end.
A minute later, Wasps were awarded a free-kick from a scrum, five metres out. They opted for another scrum, but there was a flare-up between the packs, before the scrum could go down. The referee consulted the TMO, to look for possible foul play. After a very long break in play, nothing was detected and play resumed. Wasps produced another powerful scrum and drove towards the line, only for them to be penalised.
After 24 minutes, Wasps were penalised at a lineout, 30 metres out. Danny Cipriani, who had just replaced the injured Nick Macleod, gave his side the lead, rather against the run of play.
Wasps were level within two minutes, after a powerful burst by Ashley Johnson took play up towards the Sale 22, and the home side were penalised at the breakdown, right in front of the posts. Andy Goode was on target, from 30 metres.
Almost immediately, Josh Bassett lost possession as he went up to gather a high kick. Sale quickly moved the ball out to the left, and Mark Cueto combined with Andy Forsyth, who was stopped just short. A series of bursts for the line were kept out but the defence, but Wasps were then penalised.
Sale decided to go for the corner, and another drive for the line saw the referee go upstairs. The TMO ruled that no try had been scored, but Sale had another attacking scrum, five metres out. It produced another penalty, and Sale again went for the corner. This time, the initial drive was pushed back, but the Sale forwards regrouped and worked their way infield. The ball was released to scrum-half Will Cliff. He fed Cipriani and the flyhalf produced a perfectly timed pass to Mark Cueto who came on to the ball at speed, to burst through a weak tackle and go over for a try between the posts. Cipriani added the extra points, and Sale now led 10-3, with 8 minutes of the half to play.
Just before halftime, Cipriani stretched the lead to 13-3, with a simple penalty from in front of the posts. An excellent end to the half for Sale, who were now playing with much greater confidence.
Four minutes after the break, Cipriani had a chance to stretch the lead, after the Wasps scrum were penalised, 35 metres out, but his kick went to the left of the posts.
Almost immediately, Sam Jones took a heavy knock in a tackle, and required lengthy treatment, with play continuing. The Wasps defence managed to hold out for nearly three minutes, until Cipriani burrowed his way over, near the right corner. He added the extra points with a fine kick, to give his side a 17-points cushion.
Nathan Hughes then came on for his Wasps debut, as he replaced Ed Jackson, ten minutes into the second half.
Three minutes later, Wasps came back into the game with a try which was almost a carbon copy of the score which had secured a bonus point at Exeter. They won a lineout near the corner and a well-controlled drive ended with Ashley Johnson going over the line. Goode landed the conversion to make the score 20-10.
Wasps then produced an exciting counterattack, after Tommy Bell gathered a high kick near his line. He stumbled as he evaded one chaser, but kept his footing to release Christian Wade, who accelerated away and made 20 metres before feeding Joe Simpson, who had replaced Charlie Davies. Simpson took a knock in the tackle and Davies returned as a blood replacement.
As the game entered the final quarter, Cipriani thumped over a 40-metre penalty to put his side 23-10 ahead. Wasps had a right to feel aggrieved as Joe Launchbury appeared to have tackled Rob Miller into touch, seconds before the offence which brought the penalty. The referee ignored several Wasps requests that the TMO should be consulted.
With 13 minutes left, Wasps were right back in the game, after another lineout drive was pulled down just short of the line, and the referee awarded a penalty try. Goode’s conversion made it 23-17.
Three minutes later, Wasps added a third try, after yet another powerful lineout drive, which started on the 22. It took play close to the line, before the ball was moved infield. It was then moved quickly out to left, and Josh Bassett rounded the defence to go over for his first try for Wasps. Agonisingly, Goode’s conversion was narrowly wide, leaving Sale just one point ahead, with eight minutes left.
In the closing minutes, a series of scrums gave Sale the chance to run the clock down. Inside the final minute, they found a long touch inside the Wasps 22. Wasps tried to run the ball from deep, but were penalised, just outside the 22, and Cipriani’s successful kick made the final score 26-22.
Next Saturday, Wasps will be back on home turf for the first time this season, when they take on Worcester Warriors at Adams Park.
London Wasps:Andrea Masi, Christian Wade, Ben Jacobs, Chris Bell (c), Josh Bassett, Andy Goode, Charlie Davies, Matt Mullan, Carlo Festuccia, Jake Cooper-Wooley, Joe Launchbury, Kearnan Myall, Ashley Johnson, Sam Jones, Ed Jackson
Replacements: Tom Lindsay, Simon McIntyre, Will Taylor, James Cannon, Nathan Hughes, Joe Simpson, Joe Carlisle, Tommy Bell
Sale SharksTom Arscott, Rob Miller, Mark Cueto, Andy Forsyth, Tom Brady, Nick Macleod, Will Cliff, Ross Harrison, Tommy Taylor, Henry Thomas, Kirill Kulemin, Michael Paterson, Dan Braid (C), David Seymour, Josh Beaumont
Replacements: Marc Jones, Eifion Lewis Roberts, Vadim Cobilas, Jonathan Mills, Mark Easter, Nathan Fowles, Danny Cipriani, Phil Mackenzie