At last, there is a smidgen of daylight in the middle of the Aviva Premiership and Wasps are on the right side of it. Victory in the mist over Exeter here yesterday takes them to fifth place in the table, via a hard-earned win that was decorated by a delightful try from David Lemi.
Wasps have struggled this season, for form and against injuries, the latest of which deprives them of Tom Rees, the England flanker. Last month against Bath, Rees damaged a shoulder – an area of his body which has created problems for him before – and he will see a specialist about the problem this week but he will be warmed by the sequence of four wins which has lifted his club out of the depths.
There is now a four-point gap between Gloucester, in sixth place, and Exeter in seventh and that, in as competitive a league such as this, could be significant prior to the break for European competition. Not that Exeter will diminish their efforts to stay in the top half: "Wasps are a well-established front-runner in the Premiership, it was always going to be tough for us but we stayed alive for most of the 80 minutes," Rob Baxter, the head coach, said.
On another day, Exeter would have crossed Wasps' line in the second half, given the amount of possession and territory they enjoyed, but Wasps were in unforgiving mood and denied their guests, on their first visit to Adams Park, even a losing bonus point. "We have been quite critical of the way we have been defending but in the last two weeks it's been right back to the standard we expect," Tony Hanks, director of rugby, said.
His old hands, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley, have set the tone and younger players, like James Cannon, have responded. Their aggressive approach forced unfamiliar errors from the Chiefs and afforded Dave Walder, in his 150th Premiership game, four penalty attempts before the interval, three of them successful.
Ryan Davis responded with two penalties of his own but Wasps' superiority at the scrum saw them drive Ben Broster over. By the time Exeter had sorted out their scrummage problems, Wasps were even further ahead, thanks to a 60-metre try which stemmed from Exeter's failure to retain the ball in the tackle.
Walder's long pass gave Steve Kefu room and Mark van Gisbergen's well-timed arrival ripped open the defence and gave Lemi, back from his international travels with Samoa, the chance to finish. Wasps then had to spend some twenty minutes in their own 22 and although Davis added two more penalties to his tally, Exeter could not ram home their advantage.
They knocked on two metres short, then conceded a free-kick, and even when Nic Sestaret recovered an attempted goal-kick which rebounded from an upright, Wasps held firm.
Hanks believes that the three Premiership games played around Christmas will define the contenders for the top four places and his side are now back in the mix.
Scorers: London Wasps: Tries Broster, Lemi; Conversion Walder; Penalties Walder 4. Exeter Chiefs: Penalties Davis 4.
Wasps: M van Gisbergen; T Varndell, B Jacobs (captain), S Kefu, D Lemi; D Walder, J Simpson; S Ruwers (J Hobson, 55), T Lindsay (B Baker, 76), B Broster (I Taulafo, 55), S Shaw, J Cannon (M Veale, 58), J Worsley, S Betsen, A Powell (D Ward-Smith, 69).
Exeter: L Arscott; M Foster, P Dollman (B Rennie, 55), J Shoemark, N Sestaret; R Davis, H Thomas (G Cowley, 55); B Sturgess, S Alcott (C Whitehead, 58), C Budgen (H Tui, 49), T Hayes (captain), J Hanks (D Gannon, 61), T Johnson (C Slade, 71), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter.
Referee: G Garner (Warwickshire).