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Cipriani sends Wasps crashing in race for sixth
WASPS still have a European quarter-final to look forward to, but their Aviva Premiership season effectively ended at Adams Park this afternoon as a Danny Cipriani-inspired Sale team beat them 21-17.
The former Wasps ten scored 11 points himself and also created the match-winning try with a quite delightful dummy that bamboozled everyone in the ground.
Wasps have now lost five in a row and trail the Sharks by eight points in the Aviva Premiership table with only five league games of the season remaining.
It's time enough to make up the ground, but Wasps suddenly look a tired outfit and with Northampton, Saracens and Leicester still to come the chances of making much more headway looks slim.
This was London Irish all over again. Dai Young spoke about the need for fast starts after struggling to get out of the blocks in the last month, but it will be back to the drawing board next week as Wasps again found themselves adrift early on.
It's not that they were particularly bad in the opening quarter, just flat and one-paced with too many kicks down the throats of the Sale back three and too many lateral phases lacking penetration or pace.
Wasps were also shoved off their first scrum and when they set up a driving maul to give them some go forward, they were again jolted into reverse gear.
Their untidy start was summed up by Joe Simpson after seven minutes when he was sin-binned for needlessly taking out Nick MacLeod on the half way line.
That brought Cipriani off the bench, and the former Wasps' first act was to bang over the 49m penalty that made it 3-0.
It got worse, and by the time Simpson returned the lead had been stretched to 10-0 with Daniel Braid going over from Mark Cueto's chip.
But still Wasps struggled to grind through the gears, and it wasn't until they decided to put the ball through the hands for the first time after 18 minutes that they at last looked a bit lively.
Andrea Masi and Josh Bassett were instrumental as they swarmed down the left flank to earn a penalty, which Joe Carlisle converted to get his side off the mark.
Carlisle added another three points two minutes later, and it became a one-point game after 25 minutes when the fly half made it three from three off the tee after Wasps had turned the screw by stealing a Sale line out and then driving their guests back 20 yards.
Try chances were few and far between though, and it was Sale who looked the more likely to cross again before the interval after Carlisle's clearing kick was charged down.
For a moment the Sharks had a two man overlap and seemed certain to score, but the pass was delayed and when it finally came a juddering tackle from Bassett ended the threat.
An improvement after the interval was certainly required though, and Wasps were certainly more vibrant after ten minutes in the changing room with their director of rugby.
Right from the restart there was an intensity in their play that hadn't been there in the first 40, and they didn't have long to wait for their reward with Carlisle giving his team the lead for the first time with a 44th minute penalty.
Shortly afterwards the comeback was complete with their first score of the game.
Ashley Johnson made it with a superb catch just inside his own half, and when the ball was popped out for Simpson on the wing it was a straight footrace between him and his former half-back partner Cipriani.
Both players have gas to burn, but Simpson pinned his ears back and there was no catching him.
Carlisle's conversion hit an upright, but Wasps had seemingly done enough.
From 10-0 behind, they had plundered 17 unanswered points to lead on their own turf in front of their own fans. They had the momentum one more score would probably have ended the contest.
But winning in the spring is getting harder and harder for Wasps, and a Cipriani-inspired try from Sale after 55 minutes turned the game around again.
It was his sumptuous dummy that wrong-footed the entire Wasps line to allow Johnny Leota to go over in the corner, and shortly afterwards the same player landed a penalty to make it 18-17.
Wasps still had time to come back, but they never really looked like they would.
Andy Goode missed a chance off the tee to restore their lead after 67 minutes, but the black and golds looked weary before and after his miss and with three minutes to go Cipriani struck the knife in with another penalty.
Even when he starts on the bench he's still the player everyone will talk about.
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