Wonderful entertainment, wicked humour, wrong-doing by the bucketful whenever the referee had his back turned, and two wonder tries to seal an unforgettable match. Quite where Sale found the enthusiasm to play rugby of this quality, in an utterly compelling Zurich Championship quarter-final at Heywood Road yesterday, only the gods will know.
They had already qualified for next season's Heineken Cup and could be forgiven for having Sunday's Parker Pen Shield final against Pontypridd on their minds. It was Wasps who had all to aim for, with a European Cup place the prize for reaching the play-off final. But minus Lawrence Dallaglio, Kenny Logan, Paul Volley and Alex King, and without a recognised goal-kicker, the Londoners were swept away in an extraordinary final quarter.
Once Josh Lewsey had scored at the posts from Martyn Wood's break, Wasps were 27-13 ahead and Sale had it all to do. Remarkably they did; with something to spare as it turned out. If the visitors feel disappointed and find excuses in being under strength, so were Sale until they brought Jason Robinson, Bryan Redpath, and Stu Pinkerton off the bench. Though to be fair, it was several players who had been on from the start who did most damage.
Foremost was Charlie Hodgson who provided two sublime grubbers, each perfectly weighted, which led to Sale's fourth and fifth tries. This after the outside-half had banged over a magnificent 40-metre penalty in a tricky wind that ensured Wasps required at least a try to win the game with only a minute of normal time remaining.
They never made it. Seemingly hemmed in on the right touch-line, Hodgson slid the ball forward for Anthony Elliott to touch down in the corner. Two minutes later, with Wasps still rubbing their eyes in disbelief, Hodgson repeated the trick on the other wing for Steve Hanley to score his second try. Hodgson's conversions had earned him 18 points and a standing ovation. He deserved the lot.
Having squandered three, if not four, perfectly good try-scoring chances in the opening quarter, Sale could have no complaints as Wasps built up a healthy lead with two tries by Martin Offiah in what is expected to be his last game for the club. Paul Sampson grabbed their third try, while Phil Greening, once of Sale, amused the crowd with his attempts to appear a serious goal-kicker.
With Alan Dickens claiming Sale's only try of the half, a conversion and two penalties from Hodgson meant the away side went in 20-13 to the good. Then, apart from Lewsey's valedictory contribution, it was goodbye Wasps, hello Hodgson.
Sale: Tries Dickens, Sanderson, Hanley 2, Elliott; Conversions Hodgson 3; Penalties Hodgson 4. Wasps: Tries Offiah 2, Sampson, Lewsey; Conversions Greening 2; Penalty Greening
Sale: V Going (J Robinson, 52); A Elliott, J Baxendell, M Deane (D Harris, 52), S Hanley; C Hodgson, A Dickens (B Redpath, 47); A Black (A Turner, 58), C Marais (A Titterrell, 58), B Stewart, S Lines, C Jones, A Perelini (S Pinkerton, 47, M Giacheri, 68), R Wilks, A Sanderson (capt).
Wasps: P Sampson; M Roberts (W Wigram, 76), S Abbott, M Denney, M Offiah (M Leek, 63); J Lewsey, M Wood (M Friay, 72); C Dowd (A McKenzie, 54), T Leota, W Green, S Shaw, I Jones (capt), J Worsley, P Greening, M Lock.
Referee: T Spreadbury (Longwell Green, Somerset).
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