Wasps let off hook as Sale's revival falters

Sale 25 Wasps 27
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The Independent Online

Wasps have developed a happy knack of winning the close games that matter, and they were forced to withstand a furious second-half onslaught by a resurgent Sale.

Wasps have developed a happy knack of winning the close games that matter, and they were forced to withstand a furious second-half onslaught by a resurgent Sale.

Sale looked out of it by half-time, having been outplayed in all facets of a wonderfully entertaining game, which would have ended in a draw if Mike Hercus had converted Steve Hanley's stoppage-time try. A losing bonus point seemed poor reward for Sale's fightback, which still leaves them in third place, although now 12 points adrift of second-placed Wasps.

With Jason Robinson recovering from a thumb injury, Sale considered moving Charlie Hodgson to full-back, allowing Hercus to take the outside-half berth. But they had a last-minute change of heart and Hercus took the No 15 jersey. Wasps, too, rang the changes, preferring Tom Rees to Johnny O'Connor on the flank, with John Hart alongside the England Under-21 captain, relegating Joe Worsley to the bench.

With Wasps timing their run perfectly to secure a play-off place and automatic Heineken Cup qualification next season, Sale needed to repeat their defeat of the champions at the Causeway Stadium in September to put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. By half-time, that prospect for Sale appeared a distant mirage.

There are some games when everything goes right for a team. It did for Wasps in a dominant first half. Hodgson had another of those matches when he was dispiritingly well below his best. He was wide with his first penalty effort, hit an upright with his second and gave way to Hercus, who kicked one, missed one, for Sale's only points before the break.

By then, Wasps were in command. With Simon Shaw and Richard Birkett sure-handed in the line-out and Lawrence Dallaglio marshalling the rest of the yellow-shirted enforcers, Wasps were toying with the home side. Matt Dawson was allowed to escape near the posts for the opening try, and Ayoola Erinle got the second after the running was made by Alex King, Rob Hoadley and Mark van Gisbergen. With a conversion and four penalties from Van Gisbergen, Wasps were full value for their lead at the interval of 24-3.

Then Sale raised themselves. Hercus began the renaissance with a penalty before Sebastien Chabal and Hanley grabbed touchdowns, both of which were converted by Hercus.

For Wasps, King kicked another penalty, but the all-important kick which would have earned Sale a draw flew wide.

Sale: Tries Chabal, Hanley 2; Conversions Hercus 2. Penalties Hercus 2. Wasps: Tries Dawson, Erinle. Conversions Van Gisbergen. Penalties Van Gisbergen 4, King.

Sale: M Hercus; M Cueto, C Rhys Jones, R Todd (J Payne, 80), S Hanley; C Hodgson (J Baxendell, 45), B Redpath (capt, S Martens, 65); A Sheridan, S Bruno (A Titterrell, 53), B Stewart (S Turner, 60), C Jones, D Schofield, J White (P Anglesea, 73), M Lund (J Carter, 73), S Chabal.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen (J Lewsey, 43); P Sackey, A Erinle, R Hoadley, T Voyce (Lewsey 11-19); A King (J Brooks, 73), M Dawson (P Richards, 73); T Payne (C Dowd, 60), P Greening, W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Hart (J Worsley 65), T Rees(J O'Connor 65), L Dallaglio (capt).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).