Marco Wentzel, the Wasps captain, has fought a relegation scrap with his previous club, Leeds, in each of the last two seasons: the first successful, the second not. To almost everyone else concerned with the six-times former league champions, it's a new sensation and not a nice one.
"I would like to get away from it," said Wentzel after an eighth straight Premiership defeat which, coupled with a win for the bottom club, Newcastle, edged Wasps closer to the trapdoor. "We're fighting tooth and nail but, for a club like London Wasps, it's an embarrassing place to be in."
They say the dogfight puts bums on seats, though there were only a few more than 5,000 posteriors on plastic chairs here. A Wasps team hurt by injuries and the loss over the last four years of more than 20 internationals, retired or departed, stumbled into submission. Exeter have adjusted so well since promotion in 2010 that they are thinking now of qualifying for the Heineken Cup, or even the top-four play-offs. "We have a few players who are underappreciated," said Rob Baxter, the Chiefs' head coach. "Maybe one or two of them will get international recognition next season."
Where Wasps will be by then is wholly uncertain, including yesterday's revelation that one of the four bidders to buy the club from Steve Hayes already owns a football club. The 2004 and 2007 European champions have a six-point advantage over Newcastle and each has seven Premiership matches left, the last of them a doom-monger's dream when Newcastle visit Wasps on 5 May.
"I won't say it [the speculation over the sale] is not disruptive," Wentzel admitted. "If you're going to be fine for backing like Bath or Saracens, it's much easier. It definitely is unsettling."
In a match of no tries, the focus on refereeing was enhanced, but the call by Dave Pearson – he of the Bradley Davies yellow card in Dublin and the frozen-pitch postponement in Paris in the past fortnight – to penalise Wasps in the last minute would have caused a row at an Under-13s knockabout.
Wasps had spent the second half racking up penalties at the expense of the Exeter scrum, and were frustrated at losing an advantage after two phases at the most. When the Chiefs conceded another penalty defending a five-metre scrum, and Wasps reset to go for the four-point kill rather than kick for a draw, the outcome appeared inevitable. However, Exeter sent on one of the shrewdest cookies in the Premiership biscuit tin, their soon-to-be 39-year-old loose-head prop Chris Budgen, to face the Wasps tight-head, Simon McIntyre, who is not yet 21. Looking across the field from the press seats it appeared Wasps piled forward, splintering Exeter, for at least a reset scrum, if not a penalty or penalty try. However, assistant referee Rhys Davies decided McIntyre had slipped his binding and Pearson gave the penalty to Exeter.
"The good thing is that the boys are hurt," said Wentzel, "which means they all care about the result. We have to keep on going."
Wasps: Penalties Robinson 4. Exeter: Penalties Mieres 5.
Wasps: H Southwell; T Prydie, E Daly, D Waldouck, R Haughton (P Emerick, 21); N Robinson, N Berry (J Simpson, 18); Z Taulafo (T Payne, 54), T Lindsay (R Webber, 54), B Broster (S McIntyre, 40), E O'Donoghue (J Launchbury, 54), M Wentzel (capt), R Birkett, J Poff (S Jones, 72), B Vunipola.
Exeter P Dollman; G Camacho, N Sestaret, J Shoemark, M Jess; I Mieres, H Thomas (K Barrett, 71); H Tui, N Clark (C Whitehead, 67), C Mitchell (J Andress, 60), T Hayes (capt), A Muldowney (J Phillips, 68), T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.
Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).
- More about:
- P Funk