Jimmy Gopperth’s last-gasp conversion broke Exeter Chiefs hearts and denied them their piece of history, as Wasps snatched victory at the Ricoh Arena.
Two quickfire Thomas Waldrom scores put the Chiefs 14-6 in front at the interval on their Champions Cup quarter-final debut, following two early Gopperth penalties.
But Wasps meant business early in the second half, with a quality team score finished off by Charles Piutau, and despite Harry Williams’ try for Exeter, Frank Halai crashed over before Piutau crossed in the drying moments to set up Gopperth’s clutch kick.
As Gopperth got the game underway there was an electric atmosphere at the Ricoh Arena, with returning skipper James Haskell finding Charles Piutau in space on the left early on.
The first significant shove was made after five minutes as Wasps won a scrum penalty, and Gopperth ensured the hosts got their reward for an energetic start with an excellent kick from just short of halfway.
But once Exeter finally got their hands on the ball they looked dangerous in attack, with both Gareth Steenson and Jack Nowell making good breaks before Haskell earned a penalty at the breakdown.
Wasps continued to pile the pressure on with Joe Launchbury, Haskell and Jake Cooper-Woolley all carrying hard, but it was not until the 15th minute they got their first real sight of the try-line.
It was Siale Piutau who made the break after a lineout, and after he looked to shift it right the ball was lost forward by Gopperth as he tried to touch down.
But when Waldrom was pinged just a minute later, after George Smith made the tackle and Nathan Hughes put the pressure on, Gopperth doubled Wasps lead from the 22.
Exeter earned a scrum penalty of their own on 25 minutes for Steenson to kick them into a dangerous position, but with Wasps expecting the driving maul Waldrom peeled off the back and was held up by an excellent tackle from replacement Bradley Davies.
Chiefs were now in the ascendancy however, and with Wasps conceding a 31st minute penalty deep in their own territory, Steenson kicked for the corner.
And that brought the visitors’ opening score – with the driving maul working as effectively as it has done in Aviva Premiership Rugby and Thomas Waldrom was once more the beneficiary.
Steenson added the extras but Wasps had the chance to hit straight back when Exeter infringed at the breakdown, although when Gopperth’s penalty came back off the post the Chiefs made them pay.
Waldrom was at the centre of the action once more as from nowhere he intercepted a loose Wasps pass, and charged 30 metres over the line – his momentum carrying him over despite being caught.
A simple Steenson conversion made the half-time score 14-6, but Wasps made a explosive start to the second half with a special, sweeping try.
Daly freed Siale Piutau to make the break and find Dan Robson inside, and his delightful grubber kick was collected by Charles Piutau to score in the corner.
But when Geoff Parling and Dom Armand combined they took the Chiefs within five metres of the tryline, and Williams burrowed his way over – with the try awarded via the TMO.
Henry Slade’s 55-metre effort fell just short as Exeter looked to turn the screw, and a wonderful Chiefs move on 51 minutes ended with Parling crossing but that score was chalked off for a forward pass.
Haskell went in at the side on 57 minutes and a simple penalty for Steenson extended his side’s lead, but a phenomenal break from Elliot Daly paved the way for Wasps to get back in it.
Christian Wade beat several defenders before brilliant hands saw Siale Piutau feed Halai to score, and Gopperth’s conversion brought them back to 24-18.
Wasps had all the momentum and threw everything at Exeter for ten minutes, but it took until the very last minute for Charles Piutau to go through a defender and allow the ice-cool Gopperth to break Chiefs hearts.
Wasps: Piutau C, Wade, Daly, Piutau S, Halai, Gopperth, Robson, Mullan (McIntyre 59), Festuccia (Johnson 51), Cooper-Woolley, Launchbury, Myall (Davies 21), Haskell (Young 59), Smith, Hughes
Replacements not used: Cittadini, Simpson, Jackson, Miller
Exeter Chiefs: Turner, Nowell, Slade, Whitten (Campagnaro 70), Woodburn, Steenson, Chudley, Moon (Hepburn 58), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 66), Low (Williams 21), Lees (56), Parling, Armand, Salvi (Ewers 58), Waldrom
Replacements not used: Lewis, Short
Tries: C Piutau 2, Halai
Conversions: Gopperth 2
Penalties: Gopperth 2
Tries: Waldrom 2, Williams
Conversions: Steenson 3
Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)