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Wasps scalped by Chiefs
EXETER 30, WASPS 23.
WASPS played their part in a bit of an epic at Sandy Park tonight, but they leave Devon with nothing more than a consolation point after becoming the latest team to lose on Exeter Chief's land.
They led 13-6 and 20-13 in a pulsating first half, but in the end their bid to dent Exeter's 100 per cent home record fell achingly short.
Two yellow cards probably proved critical for Dai Young's men. In a match so evenly balanced, playing a quarter of it a man light is quite a handicap and the home side rumbled in two of their three tries while they had an extra player on the field.
But Wasps will also look at a few gilt-edged chances that got away from them during their dominant spells as another significant reason why their wait for an away win goes on.
They could have crept into the play-offs had they got that elusive victory with a bonus, instead they remain well up on last year but still well short of where they want to be.
The temperatures might have been plummeting inside Sandy Park, but the first half was a sizzling advert for Premiership rugby with both sides scoring twice and creating plenty more besides.
By the break it was locked at 20-20 all four scores had been worth braving the cold for.
Exeter began the quicker of the two teams, hitting Wasps with a tsunami right from the off and visitors had barely laid a hand on the ball by the time Gareth Steenson kicked Chiefs into a 3-0 lead after two minutes.
Wasps replied in kind with a penalty from their first attack, converted by Lee Thomas, and after Steenson had nudged his team into a 6-3 lead in the 11th minute the black and gold backs began to really click into gear.
The first threat came after 12 minutes, but Tom Varndell knocked on from Hugo Southwell's pass when he had the line at his mercy.
Four minutes later the winger again went close to his ninth try after Nick Robinson's cute grubber. He caught up with the ball in the in-goal area easily enough, but the angle of the kick beat him and his foot strayed out of play a step too soon.
The first try was coming though, and Elliot Daly provided it when he popped up on Billy Vunipola's shoulder after the back row had rammed into Exeter in the 17th minute - from 35m, there was no stopping the flying centre as he purred passed Luke Arscott to score in the corner.
Thomas converted to put Wasps 13-6 in front and at that stage they looked good value for it.
With Varndell finally crossing for the try he'd been threatening after 33 minutes, albeit from Christian Wade's forward pass, Wasps might have expected to go to the interval with a healthy lead.
However, twice before break they were exposed by long-range Exeter attacks as first Steenson and then Jack Nowell spotted gaps in the Wasps defence to race into open space.
Joe Simpson made up the ground to stop the first attack and Varndell read the danger the second time.
But although Wasps' scrambled defence stopped the first waves, Exeter made both breaks count as the forwards, who had been pummelling Wasps in the scrum, exerted their authority again with Chris Whitehead and Haydn Thomas both crossing.
It all added up to a score of 20-20 after a half that had delivered a point a minute, and the second period – drenched in freezing rain - couldn't hope to be as good.
Exeter inched ahead with another penalty and the odds swung their way further when Daly became the second Wasp to be sin-binned after Simpson had gone in the first half.
Phil Dollman made the extra man count just seconds before Daly's return, and the conversion put Exeter 30-20 up with 15 minutes to go.
It proved to be the telling moment.
Wasps didn't threaten again and Tommy Bell's penalty to earn a losing bonus point was the last kick of the match.