After 44 minutes of this entertaining encounter at the Ricoh Arena, Dan Robson slid over for his fourth try of the afternoon, accelerating onto another electric break by Christian Wade. The metronomic Jimmy Gopperth converted from wide out, thus extending Wasps’ lead to 38-14. Game over, surely ?
Up to that point, the dynamic Wasps team had played some exhilarating rugby in this opening match of the season. They were beautifully orchestrated by Danny Cipriani, who was aided and abetted by the classy Gopperth, continuing where he left off from last season, as well as the magical hands of new man, Gaby Lovobalavu who, on this evidence, looks like he might be an astute signing. These quick hands and line breaks were finished off clinically by the effervescent Wade and Robson. Both must be wondering what they must do to attract Eddie Jones’ attention as they are arguably the quickest and most ruthless finishers in the Premiership. It is often said that it can be impossible to defend against sheer pace and these two have it in abundance.
Wade scores and assists for fun and has been doing so for years. Robson has really come onto the radar in the last two years following his move from Gloucester and is now playing the rugby of his life. He has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time and is always ‘on the shoulder’, ready to accept the scoring pass. His diligent reading of the game and heads up rugby also allowed him to score a poacher’s try when he spotted Sale’s right wing Denny Solomona was caught up in a ruck and when the ball appeared at his feet, he set off down the touchline where the Sale winger would usually be residing, catching the Sale defence napping.
Robson’s defence is not to be dismissed either. On one occasion he chased back and fell on a loose ball when Sale were sniffing another score and often makes try saving tackles when tracking back, utilising his exceptional pace. Cut out the occasional blip, such as the charged down kick which enabled Sale to score their second try, then he could be a serious contender for international recognition. Joe Simpson has performed a similar role for Wasps for many years and they both seem to drive each other on to greater things. Robson is currently in the box seat but Simpson’s time will surely come again. Wasps are suitably blessed in this department.
Yet Sale were not to be dismissed. Steve Diamond’s men have heart and desire and no little pace and if their defence was creaking badly, they nearly made up for it with their attacking enterprise and in scoring three tries in the middle of the second half, they made for a nervy finale for the home supporters. New scrum half Faf De Klerk was a real livewire and with blond locks flowing, he was an effervescent presence in all Sale’s attacking movements. He scored one try himself and shortly after he took a tap penalty quickly a few yards from the Wasps’ line and fed the controversial New Zealand / Samoan rugby league convert, Denny Solomona, to dive over in the corner.
Solomona is not popular in these parts of the Midlands and the crowd certainly let him know that he was not welcome. Whilst Eddie Jones has performed admirably in his role as the England coach, and it is hard to level criticism to his corner, many in the wider rugby world, not just the one-eyed Wasps’ supporters, will feel that Jones has unfairly selected the Sale man in preference to his Wasps counterpart. Whilst Solomona possesses seering pace, he is no quicker than Wade, and has far less experience and know-how than the Wasps man. Furthermore, whilst Wade has often been criticised for the defensive nature of his game, this has vastly improved in recent years whilst Solomona looked like a fish out of water on his England debut in Argentina when he was directly responsible for England conceding two tries within minutes of him arriving on the field of play. Add to that his distinct disinterest in playing for England on his arrival in this country and his recent drinking misdemeanours on the England training camp, then any rational rugby follower would severely question his continued involvement in the England set up in the short term. But, rugby is all about pace, sheer pace, for it can cover up an all multitude of evils.
At 36- 28, with ten minutes to go, hearts were in mouths. Dai Young, the Wasps coach, had emptied his bench, removing both Robson and Cipriani to well deserved standing ovations after 60 minutes and captain Joe Launchbury and Wade on 70 minutes. Many inside the Ricoh felt that this was far too early, especially with the momentum being with the Sharks in that period of the game. Coaches everywhere often make multiple changes to their team, presumably to give game time to their full match squad, but often it seems to be completely unnecessary and can often come back to bite them. At this point the match was becoming largely unstructured, which suited Sale and it was a nervous time for the home supporters, palms beginning to sweat at the thought of a potentially disastrous defeat.
However, they need not have worried as the dynamic Nathan Hughes made another surging break straight through the middle of the Sale rearguard and young substitute Will Rowlands appeared outside to take the scoring pass. Alex Reider did the same a few minutes later and then it definitely was game over, but not without a fright for the men in black..
Wasps move on, their attack looking as sharp as ever, but with defence frailties to iron out. The same could be said for the Sharks, albeit not every week will they come up against speed merchants the calibre of Wade and Robson. Pace really is everything.