Billy Vunipola provided the killer blow as a spirited Sale Sharks side went down 25-18 to London Wasps at Adams Park in the Aviva Premiership but the visitors can console themselves at Christmas with a losing bonus point.
Sharks, without Danny Cipriani against his former club, stood toe-to-toe with Wasps for the first 50 minutes of the match but a breath-taking break from No.8 Vunipola set up T. Rhys Thomas for a try, from which Sale couldn’t recover, try as they might.
Up until then, a fine Sale try, rounded off by Richie Vernon but brought about by Sam Tuitupou’s fine break, had given the visitors hope of a first away win of the season and just a second in total.
But when Thomas barged his way over and Stephen Jones converted, Wasps were 22-11 to the good – a lead which proved unassailable.
Yet just as the Sharks faithful were getting that sinking feeling again, up popped Johnny Leota who stretched out his right arm to pinch a try at the death, which Rob Miller converted to seal a point.
Sharks acquitted themselves well from the off and while two Jones penalties gave Wasps a 6-0 lead – the second thanks to prop Sakaria Taulafo’s dominance at the scrum – Miller trimmed the deficit on 25 minutes with a three-pointer of his own.
And that gave further impetus to the Sharks who gave their travelling support plenty to cheer about on 27 minutes when Vernon went over in the corner after Tuitupou blazed his way through the heart of the Wasps defence.
An Elliot Daly long-ranger gave the hosts a 9-8 half-time lead and Jones stretched the gap to four almost immediately after the restart but back came Sale and Miller’s second penalty of the match on 44 minutes demonstrated the visitors’ refusal to lie down.
Indiscipline cost them again however as just two minutes later up stepped Jones, Wales’ record cap holder, who was never going to miss.
Then came the moment of the match that swung the momentum in Wasps’ favour. Vunipola, 20, picked up from the base of a scrum and bulldozed his way through and while Miller bravely brought him down five metres out, there was plenty of Wasps support to set up Thomas for the score.
Jones duly converted but Sale did not lie down, though while they dominated possession in Wasps’ 22 for the first five minutes of the final quarter Tony Buckley was eventually pushed into touch by Christian Wade.
Vernon then made a fine break but his inside pass was fumbled by Mark Jennings which seemed to sum up their season and things got worse for Sale when Miller, with seven minutes remaining and a losing bonus point now the target, missed a simple penalty.
Replacement Nick Robinson rubber stamped the victory with a penalty to ensure Wasps maintained their unbeaten home run and move up to seventh but Leota’s late score and Miller’s show of character after his earlier miss, gives Sale a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.