Wasps battled past a horrific start to triumph over Sale 13-31 in a faltering game at the AJ Bell.
It was a game littered with defensive errors, and despite Wasps’ poor defence – they missed 26 tackles to Sale’s 19 – Dai Young’s men’s attack was accurate and effective, meaning they could travel back to Coventry victorious.
Wasps were chasing the game throughout the first half, and found themselves behind inside two minutes. Sale broke through on the outside after Nizaam Carr lost the ball from kick-off, and Nathan Hughes was yellow-carded for a cynical offence on the try line. In Hughes’ absence, Jono Ross found the space to barrel over and give his side an early lead.
Sale continued to dominate the opening period after Ross’ try but were struggling to take advantage of their superiority. They scored only one first-half try, despite numerous visits to enemy territory.
Wasps are as clinical as any in the Premiership, and when you spurn as many opportunities as Sale did over the course of 80 minutes you will always struggle to build the necessary pressure. It has become a common theme for Sale, whose Director of Rugby Steve Diamond was left to rue wasted chances after coming close to beating Exeter last week.
Wasps rode Sale’s initial storm, eventually taking a 7-14 lead into half-time after two impressive scores in quick succession before the break.
Elliot Daly has made a conscious effort to improve his game management, and in Jimmy Gopperth’s long-term absence, the England international has frequently been used as the second playmaker that Dai Young craves. Daly chipped the ball into Sale’s 22 twice in the opening stages, trying to gain an advantage from a Sharks lineout which struggled against Exeter last week.
While Sale were toiling to little avail in the second half, Wasps’ defence was standing strong, in stark contrast to their troubles in the opening period.
The second stanza was largely uneventful, but Nathan Hughes powered his way over minutes from time to ensure that Wasps could leave Manchester with maximum points, keeping the pressure on Exeter and Saracens at the top of the table.
Sale have had a particularly difficult start to the season, playing two of last season’s top four in the opening rounds, but will be disappointed with their points tally of just four so far, and will be looking over their shoulders at Worcester, who take on Leicester tomorrow.
Though Willie le Roux returned from international duty for Wasps, Sale are still missing Faf de Klerk, while fellow stars James O’Connor and Chris Ashton are both close to returning from injury and suspension respectively. All three are essential to Sale’s top six hopes this season, and on current evidence, they cannot come back quickly enough.
There were some very encouraging signs for Wasps, and previous black-and-gold generations might have conceded more than 13 points, especially under such strenuous goal-line pressure.Gaskell, Johnson, Carr, Hughes.