Cipriani steers Sharks to victory over Wasps
September 20, 2013
Replacement fly-half Danny Cipriani notched 21 points at the AJ Bell Stadium
© PA Photos
Replacement fly-half Danny Cipriani steered Sale Sharks to a 26-22 victory over London Wasps at the AJ Bell Stadium in Friday night.
The controversial stand-off replaced Nick Macleod after 19 minutes and racked up 21 points to ensure his side had a big enough lead to defend. Cipriani kicked two first-half penalties and a conversion and set up Mark Cueto's try. Andy Goode's single three-pointer was Wasps' only response before the break as they struggled for continuity.
Cipriani, who was playing his first game of the season having been left out of the previous two squads, crossed after the break to give the hosts a seemingly comfortable 20-3 advantage. But the visitors responded well as Ashley Johnson touched down before they were awarded a penalty try.
Although Cipriani kicked another penalty, Josh Bassett's score gave Goode the chance to put them ahead with the conversion, but the fly-half missed and Sale's mercurial pivot sealed the win with a last-minute three-pointer.
After the optimism that followed Sale's surprise victory over Gloucester in round one, they were brought back down to earth with a 15-14 defeat to Newcastle Falcons last week.
That prompted director of rugby Steve Diamond into a number of changes for the visit of Wasps as Ross Harrison, Tommy Taylor and Kirill Kulemin came into the pack and Rob Miller replaced Phil Mackenzie on the wing.
The hosts were then dealt a blow before kick-off as James Gaskell and Dwayne Peel pulled up in the warm-up. And with those late changes, the game started slowly. Visiting flanker Sam Jones was prominent with a couple of early bursts through the heart of the home team's rearguard, but the opening 17 minutes was dominated by a series of collapsed scrums.
However, a match briefly broke out as the High Wycombe-based outfit put together a move which put wing Bassett in space before it was ended by a forward pass. But finally, after Cipriani had entered the fray for the injured Macleod, the seven-time capped England international kicked the first points after an infringement at a lineout.
Goode then levelled matters with a three-pointer of his own before Sale produced their most coherent attack of the half when Cueto, Tom Brady and Andy Forsyth combined. Wasps were now under severe pressure and they eventually succumbed as Cueto powered through some flimsy tackling to touch down. Cipriani converted and also added a penalty late in the half to take the Sharks into a 13-3 lead at the interval.
Having lost their opening two encounters to Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs, Dai Young's men needed to lift their intensity after a mistake-ridden opening period, but it was Sale who were on the front-foot early in the second half.
Although the replacement fly-half Cipriani missed a penalty attempt, he atoned for that wayward kick by jinking his way over after 48 minutes. The conversion was also scored and that opened up a sizeable lead.
However, to their credit Wasps battled back and reduced the deficit when a maul ended in Johnson crossing the whitewash. Cipriani then gave the hosts a 13-point buffer, but it was Wasps who were now in the ascendancy thanks to their driving game.
Referee Tim Wigglesworth awarded a penalty try after the Sharks buckled before Bassett crossed with nine minutes of the encounter left. Goode had the chance to snatch the lead but his effort missed, and Cipriani secured the win when Wasps attempted to go from deep and infringed at the breakdown.
Sale Sharks' director of rugby Steve Diamond reserved special praise for Cipriani following his performance off the bench. "We've got a lot of competition in the squad and people have to fight and play in the second team on a Monday night and Danny's done that. He's come back, come on and done what he does well. He controlled the game with the pack giving him some ball. He played really well, he won us the game. Everyone talks about Danny Cipriani but we just want the consistency. He's come on and proved his worth. What he needs to do is do that regularly."
Wasps' director of rugby Dai Young was frustrated by their overall performance despite their second half comeback. "To be honest, I'm hugely disappointed the fightback didn't come earlier. It took us until the 55th minute of the game before we got back into it," he said. "We could have even sneaked it in the end but that's not good enough. I thought some of our skill levels tonight were embarrassing and that's what I've said to the players.
"I think we got ourselves in position and simple knock-ons didn't allow us to build any pressure or any momentum. We made things very difficult for ourselves by playing in the wrong areas and not fielding simple high kicks. I thought our skill levels tonight were unacceptable."
Sale Sharks' Mark Cueto looks to force an opening in the Wasps defence © PA Photos
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