Melbourne-bound Danny Cipriani steered Wasps up to fourth in the Guinness Premiership table with a hat-trick of penalties in a disappointing London derby at Adams Park.
Despite revealing that he is leaving the club to join the Rebels, Australia’s new Super 15 franchise, at the end of the season, Cipriani’s focus was total as he punished a Saracens side who performed way below the standards they’ve set this season.
All eyes were on the fly-half, and fellow departee Paul Sackey, as Wasps set about maintaining their record of never losing to Saracens at Adams Park, while the visitors knew victory would take them up to second in the table. And it was Cipriani who delivered as if on cue, firing over a second-minute penalty after the visitors collapsed a scrum.
Eight minutes later, Cipriani doubled the lead after referee Chris White played a long advantage to Wasps, yet still went all the way back to the original offence for not releasing.
Wasps were the more impressive side in a game of pace and ambition, and former England wing Tom Varndell brushed off Noah Cato to spark a surging attack that faltered only when White penalised the home side for holding on at a ruck. Saracens’ inability to retain possession was handing ball and territory to their hosts – the visitors made six handling errors in the opening quarter – and there was little about their performance to reflect their status as title-chasers.
Cipriani was just shy of making it 9-0 on 28 minutes, his penalty from inside his own half dropping just under the crossbar. And the crowd gasped on the half-hour when the fly-half’s attempted penalty from two yards inside his half cannoned back of an upright.
Saracens also encountered problems in an unexpected area. Wasps have suffered scrum problems for most of the season, but here they had the visitors on toast and, after awarding three penalties at a five-metre scrum, referee Chris White sin-binned prop Richard Skuse in the 38th minute. But Saracens survived to clear their lines when one more penalty at the scrum may well have cost them a penalty try.
Cipriani lit up the start of the second half with a searing break from deep before throwing a splendid reverse pass to Sackey. The wing stepped inside, but his pass was too ambitious and dropped behind his support runners. But Wasps increased their lead after 45 minutes when Cipriani completed a hat-trick of penalties.
That score sparked the most sustained period of Saracens pressure but fly-half Derrick Hougaard frustrated the visiting support by attempting long-range, off-target drop-goals. Saracens looked more threatening in this period, albeit without managing to unlock a tight and disciplined Wasps defence.
Cipriani left the field after 69 minutes, replaced by Dave Walder, and received a warm reception from the home support.
The astonishing number of turnovers and knock-ons persisted due to Wasps stern defence and Saracens lack of confidence in attack, as they were reduced to snatching at the ball under pressure. In the end the better, more organised team claimed the four points as Saracens went through the entire game without earning a single chance of a kick at goal.