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This was a game of the two sides of London Wasps. Manful and brave in defence, they had an awful night with the ball in hand.
<1>With Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan estimating up to 30 turnovers conceded by his side, there was no way that Wasps were able to compete. Sale's tactics centred on the kicking game of Charlie Hodgson who ensured that Danny Cipriani, at full back for most of the game, had a torrid time and Wasps were, in truth, lucky to get away with only 16 points against them.
Wasps were unable to even get into Sale's half for the first 25minutes, and an almost continuous bombardment of up and unders from Hodgson had Cipriani struggling to gather the ball in the slippery conditions.
Hodgson used his field position to knock over two drop goals in the first quarter, so Wasps found themselves 6-0 behind before they had launched their first cohesive attack. Promising though it was, Eoin Reddan using the blind side to make ground and link up with David Doherty and Dan Leo to progress into Sale's 22, Reddan was adjudged to have knocked on at the base of a ruck just as Wasps were asking questions of their hosts.
<2r>A George Skivington charge down prompted Wasps next attack, and Tom Voyce caused problems for Sharks' defence with a mazy run. For his efforts Wasps were awarded a penalty, but though central it was a long way out and Dave Walder couldn't nail his attempt
Another Hodgson bomb into the 22 allowed Sale to mount a pick and drive onslaught on the Wasps line as the half came to a close, but despite the best efforts of back rowers Chris Jones and Magnus Lund Wasps held firm. Sharks scrum half Richard Wigglesworth had a wild attempt at a drop goal, knowing the penalty was coming, and when his attempt arced wide Hodgson stepped up to slot the three points himself and give his team a 9-0 lead at half time.
The start of the second half saw Wasps' best period. Cipriani's grubber through gave Wasps their initial position, and when Sale stood off Walder he jinked through into the 22. Leo and hooker Joe Ward carried well as the line grew closer, and both Fraser Waters and Riki Flutey found space, but Sale got a hand to Waters' pass and Flutey slipped as he stepped through the defence, allowing Sale to survive.
Though Hodgson missed with a long range penalty attempt that kept the scores at 9-0 with the clock on 50 minutes, Wasps were showing signs of getting back into the game. They were shortlived, and controversy came over the horizon for full back Cipriani.
<3>Wasps were on the front foot, but a promising attack sputtered out with another turnover and Sharks winger Oriol Ripol snaffled the ball up to counter-attack. As he kicked ahead Cipriani impeded him, and in the tangle of legs Ripol was floored. Cipriani was lucky to get away with a stern talking to by the referee, but Sale punished Wasps more severely. Hodgson kicked the penalty to the corner and from a well organised catch and drive Magnus Lund was over for the score.
Wasps came back with spirit, and from a line out Pat Barnard found a gap to dive for the line but was held up. Wasps attacking situation was again short-lived as a turnover allowed Sale to get back on the offence. Luckily Hodgson's diagonal kick for Ripol was too flat to cause Wasps problems, and his attempt at a third drop goal minutes later was also wide of the mark.
The fly half's kicking game continued to cause problems though. With Cipriani now at ten and Mark Van Gisbergen holding the fort at the back, he too had problems fielding the slippery ball and Wasps were again at sixes and sevens as the game entered the final ten minutes.
<4r>McGeechan's men continued to play with their heads up, but things just wouldn't go to plan. Riki Flutey's chip over was fielded by replacement Chris Mayor who set off on another dangerous counter attack, and twice Sale were within a whisker of touching down as their speed men chased balls into goal. Replacement No8 David Tait crashed over from a five metre scrum in the final minutes, but in grounding the ball he knocked on, the final whistle coming not too soon for the visitors,
Director of Rugby, Ian McGeechan pulled no punches in his assessment of Wasps mixed performance:
'We've been playing quite well in patches before today, but this was by far our worst performance. Today there are no excuses, we were just very poor.
'The score could have been a lot more, but I thought we defended well and all our good rugby was without the ball. But we were very, very poor in attack, you can't do that and expect to win games. Our turnover count must have been near 30 in this game.
Head Coach Shaun Edwards agreed:
'The turn over rate was astronomical, and there's only so much defending you can do. I thought the boys defended manfully but with Charlie Hodgson chipping away with drop goals and all the field position they had, in the end there was only one winner.
McGeechan added. 'I thought Sale's back row played well but no more than you'd expect in a Premiership game, and basically we didn't look after the ball when we had it in our hands.'
Commenting on the challenge ahead to climb back up the table following Wasps worst losing streak since 2002-3, he acknowledged:
<5>'Its tough, and we've got a mountain to climb now. We want to be top four at the end of the season, but we've given sides a head start and we can't afford to lose too many games from here on in.'
Asked what happens next, McGeechan said, 'We have to front up to it. The players know that, we don't have to tell them. We have to front up as a group, and prepare for the next game in eight days time.'
Referee: Rob Debney
MOTM: Ben Foden