Wasps made it eight wins out of eight at Adams Park, but they were made to work hard for the win by a tenacious Sale side after failing to turn first half dominance into points.
It wasn’t until Rhys Thomas’s try, 15 minutes into the second half, that they finally gave themselves some daylight. The win lifts them above Bath and Worcester, and into seventh place in the Premiership.
The Adams Park ground staff deserve enormous praise for getting the surface into such excellent condition, just 24 hours after the Wycombe Wanderers game against Bradford City had to be called off, because the pitch was waterlogged.
Wasps started strongly, after Billy Vunipola’s charge from the end of a lineout, just outside the Sale 22. The ball was controlled through several phases, before a loose pass by Ashley Johnson was picked up by Sale winger Mark Jennings and the ball was cleared downfield, where Vunipola knocked on, to give the visitors an attacking scrum. The Wasps pack responded well and a series of strong scrums led to a penalty, from which Elliot Daly found touch, deep inside the Sale 22.
Wasps threatened a try, after Daly fielded a clearance kick and fed Hugo Southwell, who spotted a gap in the Sale defence and made 30 metres before moving the ball out wide, but Wasps were penalised at the breakdown allowing the visitors to clear to the 10 metre line.
James Haskell then stole the lineout and the Wasps forwards took play into the 22, before the ball was again moved out wide. Sale were penalised twice, near their line. Wasps put the first penalty into touch at the corner, but then opted to go for goal from the penalty at the lineout. Stephen Jones landed the kick, to give his side the lead, after ten minutes of dominance.
A minute later, Wasps were caught offside in midfield, on their 10-metre line but Nick McLeod’s kick went wide.
Wasps were soon back on the attack, when Joe Simpson broke from a lineout ten metres inside the Sale half. He linked with Ashley Johnson, before Billy Vunipola put in a characteristic charge down the midfield. Wasps went through several phases, before Andrea Masi sent a kick towards Christian Wade’s wing, but the ball went into touch. Another promising Wasps attack ended disappointingly, when they were penalised for crossing, inside the Sale 22.
The Wasps scrum was continuing to look strong and another powerful shove yielded a penalty in the middle of the field, five metres inside the Sale half. Stephen Jones was again on target, to double the lead, to 6-0, after 22 minutes of play.
Two minutes later, Sale opened their account, when Rob Miller landed a long-range penalty, after Wasps were penalised for not rolling away from the tackle, a few metres inside their half.
Almost immediately the visitors went ahead from their first serious attack of the afternoon. Sam Tuitupou smashed through some weak tackling in midfield to make 30 metres, before being brought down just short of the line. Quick ball was moved out to the right, and number 8 Richie Vernon went over near the corner for a well-worked try, which Nick McLeod could not convert, but the visitors now led 8-6.
The try clearly lifted the visitors, who began to find some momentum and enjoyed several minutes of possession. They nearly claimed a second try, when Hugo Southwell’s attempted chip through the defence went into the arms of Mark Jennings with nobody in front of him, and a 50-metre run to the line. It took a fine covering tackle by Joe Simpson to prevent a score.
A minute later Wasps were back in front, thanks to a trademark monster penalty from Elliot Daly, from several metres inside his own half.
Within a minute, Sale had a chance to retake the lead, after Wasps were penalised 40 metres out, but Rob Miller’s kick went well wide. Wasps mounted one last threatening attack, with Joe Launchbury featuring prominently, to take play deep into the Sale 22, but halftime came with the score still at 9-8 to the home side, hardly a true reflection of the way much of the half had gone.
Wasps began the second half well, with another Vunipola run starting a controlled piece of play which ended with a penalty, when Ashley Johnson was taken out of the ball. Stephen Jones’s kick from 40 metres stretched the lead to 12-8, but it was only a matter of seconds before Wasps again offended at the breakdown, 35 metres out and Rob Miller put the gap back to a single point.
Two minutes later, a good run by Hugo Southwell led to a penalty, 35 metres out just to the right of the posts and Jones landed his fourth successful penalty, to put Wasps 15-11 ahead.
Wasps then produced their first try of the afternoon, created by a storming run by MOTM Billy Vunipola, who picked the ball from the base of a scrum, on halfway. He produced an astonishing burst of speed, to almost make it to the line. The Wasps forwards arrived quickly, to recycle quickly and Rhys Thomas crashed over near the posts. Stephen Jones added the conversion and the Wasps lead was now a more comfortable-looking 22-11, with just over 25 minutes left to play.
Wasps then made their first replacements of the afternoon, with Jonathan Poff and Tim Payne taking the places of James Haskell and Zak Taulafo.
With the game now in danger of slipping away from them, Sale produced their best attack of the half, which put the Wasps defence under severe pressure. They spent several minutes hammering away at the line, before replacement prop Tony Buckley was forced into touch at the corner.
The siege was eventually lifted, when Wasps turned over Sale possession ten metres inside their half and Ashley Johnson sent a long kick downfield which bounced awkwardly for Mark Jennings and rolled into touch near the corner. Wasps won the lineout and set up a position from which Stephen Jones dropped for goal, but he completely mishit his kick and the ball sailed wide.
Further Wasps replacements brought Nick Robinson, James Cannon and Tom Lindsay onto the field in place of Stephen Jones, Marco Wentzel and Rhys Thomas.
With seven minutes left, Rob Miller missed a simple penalty. Three minutes later, Nick Robinson made no mistake with a penalty won by another powerful scrum, deep inside the Sale 22.
Charlie Davies took over from Joe Simpson for the last three minutes of the game.
The visitors mounted one last attack and Jonny Leota crashed over in the final play of the match. Miller’s conversion meant Sale had secured a bonus point, which could yet be crucial in their fight against relegation.
Wasps visit their Thames Valley neighbours London Welsh next Saturday 29th of December, at the Kassam Stadium Oxford. They are back at Adams Park on January the 6th, when Bath are the visitors.
Wasps team: 15 Hugo Southwell (c) 14 Christian Wade 13 Andrea Masi 12 Chris Bell 11 Elliot Daly 10 Stephen Jones
9 Joe Simpson 1 Zak Taulafo 2 T Rhys Thomas 3 Phil Swainston 4 Joe Launchbury 5 Marco Wentzel 6 Ashley Johnson
7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay 17 Tim Payne 18 Will Taylor 19 James Cannon 20 Jonathan Poff 21 Charlie Davies
22 Nick Robinson 23 Chris Mayor
Sale: 15 Rob Miller 14 Mark Jennings 13 Jonny Leota 12 Sam Tuitupou 11 Mark Cueto 10 Nick Macleod 9 Will Cliff 1 Ross Harrison 2 Marc Jones 3 Eifion Lewis Roberts 4 Richie Gray 5 KearnanMyall 6 James Gaskell 7 David Seymour (capt.) 8 Richie Vernon
Replacements: 16 Aston Croall 17 VadimCobilas 18 Tony Buckley 19 Fraser McKenzie 20 Andy Powell 21 Cillian Willis 22 CorneUys 23 Tom Brady