Jack Nowell scored a first-half double to claim his first Aviva Premiership Rugby tries in over a year and send Exeter Chiefs top of the table with a resolute victory over Wasps at Sandy Park.
Despite an eagerly anticipated battle between the respective back rows, it was the backlines who lit up a restless first period with Nowell scoring either side of Rob Miller’s reply for the visitors.
Thomas Waldrom then maintained his stunning scoring form to claim his seventh try of the campaign, with Gareth Steenson proving nerveless from the tee as the hosts led 25-8 at the break.
An attritional second period then saw Wasps fail to capitalise on Chiefs prop Tomas Francis being sent to the bin, despite replacement Tom Lindsay touching down, as Steenson added two further penalties.
After a crushing victory over London Welsh last weekend, Dai Young’s side ultimately faltered against a superb Exeter defence, failing to break both their Sandy Park hoodoo and remaining winless on the road this campaign.
The hosts started brightly by pinning Wasps into their own 22 and built an attacking platform through a series of driving mauls inside the first two minutes.
Scrum-half Will Chudley then dummied his way through the defensive line to send winger Nowell over in the corner for the England international’s first Aviva Premiership Rugby try since scoring against Wasps in April 2013.
Steenson added the extras from the touchline before Wasps cut the deficit moments later as Exeter were whistled for an infringement at the breakdown inside their 22 and Andy Goode landed the simple penalty.
Yet Steenson restored his side’s seven-point advantage in the ninth minute as the visiting defence strayed offside and the fly-half slotted his second attempt at goal.
The battle of the back row was starting to rumble into life as Wasps No.8 Nathan Hughes produced a forceful carry to give his side good territory.
Hughes took a quick tap , spreading the ball wide for Elliot Daly to draw his man and put full-back Miller over, with Goode missing a tough conversion from the right touchline.
Steenson then made it three from three to extend the hosts’ lead out to 13-8 after Wasps captain Chris Bell was penalised for not rolling away.
Dai Young’s side spurned a good chance to score their second try as Sailosi Tagicakibau had to collect a long pass out wide on the bounce, allowing Nowell to cover.
Goode conceded a soft penalty to hand Exeter field position and Ian Whitten offloaded to Nowell, who fended off the attentions of Ashley Johnson and Miller to touch down for his second score on 29 minutes.
Although Steenson missed the conversion to keep it 18-8, Exeter nearly scored from the restart as a slick interchange between Dean Mumm and Luke Cowan-Dickie deceived Miller, only for the pass out wide to go to ground.
Yet the Chiefs had their third as a powerful driving maul allowed Waldrom to barrel over and score a remarkable seventh try in eight games this campaign, with Steenson converting on 35 minutes.
Wasps needed a response before the break as Hughes charged through to deftly offload but Tom Varndell, on for the injured Christian Wade, was bundled into touch at it remained 25-8 at half time.
After Goode was held up over the line, Wasps exerted their dominance at the scrum, forcing the hosts to concede four consecutive penalties with prop Francis duly yellow carded by referee Ian Tempest.
Rob Baxter took the chance to replace his entire front row and despite heavy Wasps pressure, the refreshed Exeter pack finally won a penalty of their own and cleared.
The change continued to pay dividends as Moray Low won a scrum against the head to secure his side a penalty that Steenson landed from distance to make it 28-8 on 61 minutes.
Patient approach play by Wasps then saw Sam Jones feed Lindsay to crash over from close range with substitute Alex Lozowski adding the extras only for Steenson to land another penalty moments later to make it 31-15.
With Wasps’ frustrations clearly apparent, Daly was sent to the bin for foul language, with Steenson kicking to the corner but his side were unable to find a bonus-point try as time ran out.
This Christmas, Premiership Rugby is offering fans a special gift with selected tickets for the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final 2015. Click here to find out about this limited offer.