Joe Simpson’s superb late try sealed a vital Wasps win as they held off a fine Exeter Chiefs fightback to close the gap on their rivals in the battle for the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four.
Christian Wade’s early score was soon levelled up by Will Chudley’s sniping effort but the boot of Andy Goode and a penalty try on the stroke of half-time opened up a 26-16 lead for the hosts at the Ricoh Arena.
Thomas Waldrom, sin binned in the first half, responded late on for the Chiefs with his 14th league try of the season while Henry Slade was unerring from the kicking tee.
The boot of Goode kept Wasps in front however until Simpson dashed clear from his own half after fielding a high kick to seal victory for the home side.
Defeat means the Chiefs slide out of the top four this weekend to fifth – but a late Gareth Steenson drop goal earned them a losing bonus point so they are just a point behind Leicester Tigers in fourth – while Wasps in sixth are now just a further point back.
Barely a minute was on the clock when Wade went over for the game’s first try, No.8 Nathan Hughes sucking in three defenders with a big carry from the base of the game’s first scrum before offloading out the back to the winger who scampered over down the right.
Goode’s conversion from the touchline put the hosts into an early 7-0 lead but it did not last long, the Chiefs summoning an immediate response as Chudley scampered through a gaping hole around the ruck to go under the posts.
Slade added the extras and after exchanging penalties with Elliot Daly, the latter booming over from halfway, the scores were locked at 10-10.
But from Wasps’ kick off the Chiefs looked to run it rather than clear their lines, Matt Mullan won a fine turnover at the breakdown and Goode re-established a three-point lead with only a quarter of an hour played.
Wasps were showing the greater invention with ball in hand, Wade nearly starting and finishing a contender for try of the season but James Haskell’s final pass just evaded him.
But their pressure was yielding points as two more Goode kicks opened up a 19-10 lead with half an hour played.
Slade’s accuracy from the kicking tee was keeping the Chiefs in contention however, the left-footer sliding over two penalties in quick succession to trim the lead down to three points.
Wasps regained the advantage before the interval however, first No.8 Waldrom sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on.
And from the subsequent lineout, Wasps’ rolling maul was held up over the try line but the Chiefs could not hold out forever and the impressive front row won the hosts a penalty try on the stroke of half time. Goode’s conversion meant the home side went in ten points to the good at 26-16.
The Chiefs needed to survive the start of the second half with Waldrom still off the pitch and Hughes was still busting holes in their defence but the latter’s offload only found Ian Whitten with the tryline beckoning.
Waldrom returned with gusto for the visitors but it was still Wasps who were on top, thanks in no small part to a dominant scrum.
A half charged down drop goal attempt from Goode nearly put replacement Guy Thompson in for a try but with the referee playing advantage the fly-half went back to slot the kick and make it 29-16.
The next score had to be Exeter’s if they wanted to get anything from the game and after a close-range rolling maul fell short, it was left to the impressive Waldrom to barrel over.
Slade’s conversion was good and when the fly-half added a penalty just after the hour mark the match was so delicately poised at 29-26.
In the final ten minutes Goode missed the chance to extend the lead for Wasps as his long-range penalty went wide but the stage was then set for Simpson.
The scrum-half collected Chudley’s up and under, dodged a couple of would-be tacklers, found a gap and suddenly was in the clear – the No.9 showing his trademark pace to evade the covering defenders for the all-important score.
Goode’s re-taken conversion took Exeter out of losing bonus point range and when replacement Steenson missed with a late penalty it looked like a long drive home for the Chiefs with nothing to show for their efforts.
But Steenson kept his nerve with the clock already having ticked past 80 minutes to nail a drop goal for what could prove to be a vital losing bonus point in the final reckoning.
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