Nick MacLeod’s late penalty settled a topsy-turvy clash with Wasps and ensured that Sale Sharks kicked off this season’s LV= Cup with a dramatic bonus-point victory.
Both sides crossed for four tries in an attacking display at the AJ Bell Stadium but it was the hosts who had replacement MacLeod to thank as his late effort from the tee proved decisive.
Wasps scored four tries through Will Rowlands, Will Helu (2) and Ed Jackson whereas for the Sharks it was Alberto De Marchi, Josh Beaumont, Viliami Fihaki and Charlie Ingall who did the damage.
But while Alex Lozowski kicked well for the visitors, with a penalty and three of four conversions, it was Joe Ford and then his replacement MacLeod that did just enough for the Sharks, runners-up in this competition back in 2013.
Sale struck first through a Ford penalty after a good maul directly from the kick off gave the Sharks prime position in the Wasps half, when the infringement came Ford made no mistake taking the three points.
Wasps responded almost immediately, a half break was smothered by the scrambling Sale defence before the ball was recycled and Rowlands crashed over from close range, with Lozowski adding the extras.
Penalties then cost Wasps as Sharks inched closer to the try line, the breakthrough came from the lineout as the ball was worked to the left and De Marchi was the unlikely recipient on hand to finish from close range.
Helu then restored Wasps' lead, finishing a fine break from skipper for the day Ben Jacobs underneath the posts. The conversion was a formality for Lozowski to put his side back in front at 14-10.
In the last ten minutes of the half both sides traded blows, first Beaumont crossed for Sharks after collecting Mark Easter’s offload, Ford converting again.
But in a topsy-turvy first half Wasps’ Helu then got his second score of the day, crossing in the left corner after a sustained period of pressure but Lozowski was off target with the extras this time.
Wasps were in front at 19-17 and that was how it stayed until the interval, Ford missing with a drop goal as time expired.
Sale continued the back and forth scoring after the break however with powerful No. 8 Fihaki going over for the try to overturn Wasps slim advantage and make the scores 22-19.
Deteriorating conditions slowed the scoring after that for a spell as each side wrestled for control before looking to their benches to provide impetus in the final quarter.
Sharks’ replacement Sam James unlocked the Wasps defence with an evasive run before passing to Ingall to score beneath the sticks, MacLeod on from the bench kicked the conversion.
Wasps struck back quickly through Jackson, his big frame unstoppable from close range after Sale switched off in defence, the try was converted to bring the visitors within three points.
Lozowski struck a penalty with less than ten minutes left to set up a tense finish tying the scores at 29-29 as Sharks failed to keep composure in defence.
But MacLeod then showed nerves of steel to slot home a penalty edging the home team in front inside the last five minutes.
And while he missed a second penalty at the end, he did enough to run down the clock and ensure his side's victory, Wasps having to settle for the drive down south with two bonus points to their name.
Be part of the rugby family at the LV= Cup Final at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton on Sunday 22 March. Visit www.northamptonsaints.co.uk for tickets