Last night, a powerhouse Sale pack led magnificently by Andrew Sheridan, the form prop in the country, took hold of the Londoners by the short and curlies and refused to let go until their victims were screaming into the northern night sky. Wasps scored the only try - a blinder - but Sale, the pretenders to their crown, scored the points that mattered to go top.
Even Mark van Gisbergen felt the pain. The full-back had barely put a foot wrong during the three years it took him to shed his New Zealand DNA and accumulate sufficient English genes to qualify him for a deserved place in Andy Robinson's squad for the autumn internationals. But in the heat of battle at Edgeley Park, he finally parted company with his poise.
When the ball went in the air, he fumbled it; when he attempted to run possession back, he was promptly stripped bare by the likes of Sheridan and Sébastien Chabal, neither of whom are wanting in the muscle department.
There were no such doubts about his opposite number, Daniel Larrechea. The Frenchman was signed from Bayonne as a natural No 10 fill-in for Charlie Hodgson, who can expect to be involved in plenty of Test activity over the next few months, but his performances at full-back have been revelatory. Unlike Van Gisbergen, he was cucumber cool in defence and highly effective in attack. Not for the first time in his career as a Premiership coach, Philippe Saint-André has dug up a diamond.
Mind you, Saint-André very nearly dug a trench the length of the grandstand steps as he sprinted up and down in a blind fury at what he considered to be the inconsistencies of the referee, Sean Davey, who had treated the Sale flanker Jason White to an early spell in the cooler for a blatant act of ball-killing but declined to do the same to Jonny O'Connor and Lawrence Dallaglio, whose interferences on the floor were even more shameless.
Davey finally gave the yellow-card treatment to Simon Shaw, but by that time, the Sale coach was close to spontaneous combustion.
The referee did, however, take a sufficiently dim view of Wasps' many and varied transgressions to give Hodgson five first-half shots at goal, four of which were duly converted. The Londoners managed only one - a gimme for Van Gisbergen despite his foibles - in a period dominated largely by the quality of Sale's set-piece, some supremely elusive running from the Wasps wing Tom Voyce and any amount of brick-hard tackling from both sets of combatants.
Wasps knew they were up against it at forward, so they responded in characteristically imaginative fashion shortly after the interval. Lewsey cut a dash in midfield to free Stuart Abbott on a dangerous angle and then, a few seconds later, materialised in the scrum-half position at a ruck near the home 22, wriggled his hips to wrong-foot the cover and slipped into overdrive to cross to the left of the posts. Van Gisbergen improved the score to reduce Sale's advantage to a mere two points, but more heavy scrummaging presented Hodgson with a fifth successful penalty.
When Van Gisbergen, still scratchier than an ancient classroom blackboard, attempted to run out of defence as the game entered its final 10 minutes, he disappeared up a dark alley of his own making and was promptly penalised for failing to release. Hodgson hit the spot again. One way or another, it summed up the night.
Sale: Penalties Hodgson 6. Wasps: Try Lewsey; Conversions Van Gisbergen; Penalty Van Gisbergen.
Sale: D Larrechea; M Cueto, M Taylor, E Seveali'i, J Robinson (capt); C Hodgson, S Martens (V Courrent, 74); A Sheridan, S Bruno, B Stewart (S Turner, 53), C Jones, D Schofield (I Fernandez Lobbe, 57), J White, M Lund, S Chabal (N Bonner-Evans, 85).
Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, J Lewsey, S Abbott, T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 77), M Dawson; T Payne, R Ibanez (B Gotting, 62), J Dawson (P Bracken, 54), S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley (J, Hart 23), J O'Connor, L Dallagio (capt).
Referee: S Davey (Sussex).
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