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Vunipola takes centre stage in Cipriani's absence
WASPS got the job done against Sale this afternoon to make it eight wins in a row at Adams Park, but it was difficult viewing at best.
It was almost as if Sale's decision to drop Danny Cipriani drove a stake through the occasion and all the fizz and fun wheezed out through the gaping hole left behind.
What remained was a match that started optimistically enough but quickly sunk into a trudging, grudging affair that lacked accuracy and intensity in equal proportions.
Wasps won it despite playing well below their best, thanks in part to a wonderful step from Billy Vunipola that led to the host's only try.
But Dai Young's team will probably play significantly better than this and lose before the season is over.
Whether Cipriani's return to his former club would have ignited the game is a moot point - he can't have done worse than his replacement Nick MacLeod, who was hauled off – and in the final reckoning Wasps probably won't care.
They climb to seventh and with London Welsh and Bath to come they are looking up not down as 2012 draws to a close.
And although they made hard work of it, the gulf between the sides was evident early on as Wasps spent the first 20 minutes playing almost exclusively in the Sale half.
With Hugo Southwell and Stephen Jones kicking cleverly, the black and golds enjoyed a near monopoly of territory and possession.
They were enjoying dominance at scrum time too and it seemed just a matter of time before the tries started coming.
But it was almost too easy.
Hugo Southwell did instigate one meaningful attack, but after than that a creeping carelessness infected Wasps, with inaccurate passes slowing attacks and individual errors stopping momentum.
Instead of tries, they had only two Stephen Jones penalties to their name and their 6-0 lead was wiped out in less than 120 seconds midway through the half.
First Sale full-back Rob Miller knocked over a penalty and then, barely a minute later, Richie Vernon went over in the corner after Sam Tuitupou had squirmed out of a few flimsy Wasps tackles 40m out.
MacLeod missed the conversion to save further home blushes but, having ground nearly to a halt, Wasps took time to get going again and Sale threatened to go over for a second try before half-time when winger Mark Jennings picked up Southwell's loose kick on the half-way line and accelerated into open ground.
Joe Simpson caught up with him the pair rolled into touch, but this was hardly what the home fans were expecting against the league's bottom club.
Elliot Daly did at least kick them back into the lead with a 55m penalty on the angle after 38 minutes, but even then they needed a dreadful miss off the tee from MacLeod – his third of the half – to go down the tunnel with their noses in front at 9-8.
Two Jones penalties either side of a Miller response moved the score out to 15-11, before Wasps settled the outcome with the moment of the match when Vunipola picked the ball up from the base of a ruck.
A slick shuffle took him past ex England winger Mark Cueto and from 60m he charged towards the corner.
Sale closed the gap, but Joe Launchbury kept the momentum going before T Rhys Thomas crashed over with 52 minutes gone.
Jones converted to make it 22-11 and Nick Robinson's late penalty was followed by Johnny Leota's converted try in the final play of the match.
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