Wasps inflict third defeat in row on Sale to give Deacon blues

Paul Deacon has made no secret of the fact that his elevation to Sale’s interim coach has caused him one or two sleepless nights, and that restlessness is likely to continue after this result.

This is now three defeats in a row since Steve Diamond departed as director of rugby, and Sale will look back on the latest as a real missed opportunity. On a stop-start afternoon for both sides, this always felt like a case of whichever side sharpened up their attack by the narrowest of margins would be the ones who secured victory in the final Premiership game of 2020.

In the end it was Wasps who secured their second win of the season, though serious-looking injuries to Zach Kibirige – who was taken off on a stretcher after being knocked unconscious – and Alfie Barbeary did take the edge off this result somewhat. Barbeary, whose form this season has earned him a first England call‑up, departed with an ankle injury shortly into the second half.

“He felt something go in his ankle, so you can’t imagine it will be short‑term,” Lee Blackett, the Wasps director of rugby, said post-match. Trailing 10-3 at half-time, Wasps levelled with a fine try from Charlie Atkinson, whose development continued here with another encouraging display, before Barbeary was instrumental in putting them into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the afternoon.

Nobody has beaten more defenders than Barbeary in the opening three rounds, and he was at his bulldozing best here as he pinched the ball from a Sale carry before offloading to Tom Cruse, who made it 17-10 in Wasps’ favour. That moment, as well as plenty of others this season, underlined that Barbeary will be a big loss for Blackett if his worst fears are confirmed.

The news on Kibirige was more optimistic. With Wasps ahead by seven, Kibirige found himself in a race to the line with Marland Yarde. He dropped the ball, before Yarde’s full force fell on the winger, rendering him unconscious and leading to a stoppage of almost 15 minutes. It was a horrific incident: so much so that it wasn’t replayed on the screen inside the stadium.

“I’ve spoke with Zach, he’s talking and while he’s still sat on the bed, I expect him to be up walking in the next couple of hours,” Blackett said. “I think he’s going to be OK.”

Deacon’s side led by seven at half‑time thanks to a piece of Faf de Klerk brilliance which led to Yarde’s first try of the afternoon, but as he lamented: “We left some points out there in the first half. In three halves [since he took charge] we’ve been okay, and in three halves we’ve been poor. We’re inconsistent, and it’s something we need to fix.”

Wasps certainly took advantage of that inconsistency. Lima Sopoaga was faultless from the kicking tee all afternoon, and kept the visitors ahead at crucial junctures as the hosts pressed for a comeback. Two more penalties from the full-back, either side of one from AJ MacGinty, put them 23-16 ahead and well on the way to moving up to sixth on the early table before Kibirige was carried off.

Sopoaga was on hand again after the restart to make it 26-16, and while Yarde’s second try threatened to set up a grandstand finish, Wasps dug deep and ground out the victory which, on balance, they probably merited. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest end to the Premiership in 2020 on occasions: but try telling that to Wasps and see if they care.


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