Sale slip again – and can't blame Cipriani the scapegoat this time

Wasps 25 Sale 18

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The Independent Online

Sale just can't solve the Danny Cipriani conundrum: unable to win with the former England stand-off, equally unable to win without him. Cipriani was chopped from the 23 after the 62-0 Toulon horror show, then somewhat savaged by owner Brian Kennedy.

If Sale really want squad unity and an improved atmosphere within their ranks, they could do worse than avoid slagging off individuals to all and sundry. It is one thing to take a player to task behind a locked dressing-room door, quite another to rip him to shreds in public. You can only assume the Sale management believed in the Mayan calendar to have been so candid.

John Mitchell, the new Sale director of rugby, insisted that Cipriani is not being made a scapegoat, but then proceeded to say: "Last week in Toulon, our defence was weak in one channel. Danny has exceptional talent, but he is going to have to learn how to defend. He understands the situation, that he has to improve his performance. He took the news like a man, and I'm not Santa Claus.

"We let nine points go missing with poor kicks [against Wasps], and our execution wasn't good. What's true is that the game was available to us but we let it slip.

"Right now, at this level, it's about how to handle chaos. One thing's for sure, if we go down, people at the club will lose their jobs, but we saw spirit there and, in terms of our situation, you cannot discount that point."

The Wasps rugby director, Dai Young, admitted his team could have been better: "I'm happy to get the win, but we were poor today. Last season, playing like that, we'd have lost, so that shows how far we have come."

Yet having displayed fragile confidence early on, not helped by Stephen Jones arrowing the hosts 6-0 ahead with early two penalties, Sale battled back to take the lead.

When Nick Macleod missed a 13th- minute penalty, Sale switched kickers and Rob Miller delivered on 25 minutes. The goal transformed the visitors to such an extent that Sam Tuitupou stormed through some feeble tackling, and the recycled possession was turned into a try on the right by Richie Vernon, whose running line was excellent. Wasps wobbled before cashing in on the ball-carrying clout of their young England lock, Joe Launchbury, and then regaining a fortunate lead on 37 minutes with a 60-yard missile from Elliot Daly.

Jones looked to have set Wasps on the positive path with a goal two minutes after the break only for Miller to close the gap three minutes later. Referee J P Doyle was blowing for almost imagined offences and Jones hoofed home another goal on 47 minutes. A 6,436 crowd sighed with excitement.

The sighs turned to roars on 52 minutes after Billy Vunipola's explosive exit from a scrum and storming run up the right; MacLeod managed to bring down the No 8, but Launchbury was on hand to take on the baton and ensured that hooker Rhys Thomas scored. Jones added the conversion. To their immense credit, though, Sale launched a sustained late assault and Johnny Leota forced his way over for Miller to convert.

It's now one away win for Sale in eight months, and half a Premiership campaign left to turn around a season that, when you look at their line-up at Adams Park yesterday, simply makes no sense. And blaming Cipriani does not cut the Coleman's.

Wasps H Southwell (captain); C Wade, A Masi, C Bell, E Daly; S Jones, J Simpson; Z Taulafo, T Rhys Thomas, P Swainston, J Launchbury, M Wentzel, A Johnson, B Vunipola, J Haskell.

Sale R Miller; M Jennings, J Leota, S Tuitupou, M Cueto; N McLeod, W Cliff; R Harrison, M Jones, E Lewis-Roberts, R Gray, K Myall, James Gaskell, R Vernon, D Seymour (captain).

Referee JP Doyle.