Wasps 27 Exeter 41 match report: Henry Slade injury mars Chiefs win
Exeter moved to the top of the Aviva Premiership, pending the visit of unbeaten Saracens to Newcastle today, with the Chiefs’ No 8 Thomas Waldrom scoring three of his side’s six tries in Coventry, but the achievement was tempered by a worrying injury to Henry Slade.
The stylish England centre, who has justifiably raised so much excitement with his vibrant playmaking in the past year or two, appeared to wrench his right ankle as he went into contact during the second half, and had his boot removed, apparently to relieve the pain, before he was taken off on a stretcher.
Slade would have been a certainty to be named next month in his country’s squad for the Six Nations Championship. Exeter’s high position in the league has shone the spotlight on their head coach Rob Baxter, who was temporarily England’s forwards coach for a tour of South America in summer 2013, seconded to cover for the unavailable Andy Farrell, but this week declared himself uninterested in being the national team’s No 2 to new boss Eddie Jones.
Continuing to steer Devon’s well-run Premiership club appears to be more appealing. He was up and punching the air at his team’s four tries for a bonus point in a marvellous first half for the Chiefs during which, one overdone box-kick by Will Chudley apart, they maximised the strong breeze blowing behind them, while Wasps kept dropping passes. Ordinarily this match would have been a rich litmus test of English strength but among the injured absentees were Wasps’ internationals James Haskell, Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade, and the Exeter back-row prospects Dave Ewers and Don Armand, while Wasps also began with the exciting Nathan Hughes and Joe Simpson on the bench.
The Exeter pack was impressively cohesive nevertheless, and they had three tries from line-outs before the interval – two of them to Waldrom, who was an unlikely top try scorer in the Premiership last season but had yet to nab one previously in the current one. Waldrom was driven over in the 13th and 35th minutes, and the lock Mitch Lees scored in the 31st, as Wasps’ forwards were splintered easily by a superbly tight Exeter maul.
A sumptuous wind-assisted penalty kick to the corner by Gareth Steenson to set up the opener is also worthy of a mention and the fly-half added a penalty and two conversions for a 27-13 interval lead. The other Exeter try with 22 minutes gone showcased their England backs Slade and Jack Nowell. From another line-out, centre Sam Hill bashed up the middle, then Slade ran back to the short side to link with Chudley, who had looped round Tom Johnson, and passed to Nowell in space for a sprint to the line. If it had not been for a smart try by Frank Halai on the end of a kick by George Smith, with a conversion by Jimmy Gopperth to add to his two earlier penalties, Wasps would have been a long way adrift.
The home club’s chief executive David Armstrong said last week the move from London to the Midlands has “future proofed Wasps for the next 100 years”. For £20million they bought a sports stadium and concert venue, 20,000 square metres of exhibition space, a 120-bedroom hotel and the UK’s third largest casino. They’re looking to build another one or two hotels. “We are in the entertainment business,” Armstrong said. “The main competitor is the sofa.”
There were many rows of empty plastic seats here but most of those who made the effort were happier as Wasps levelled the scores by the 51st minute. Their flanker-turned-hooker Ashley Johnson thundered up behind a ruck to finish a move begun by Ben Jacobs cutting through the midfield and that was followed in a similar style by Guy Thompson making a break finished eventually by Italy prop Lorenzo Cittadini. Gopperth converted both for 27-all.
Exeter faithfully reasoned that what had worked for them before would work again. And just before the final quarter, Waldrom had his hat-trick try from yet another short-range driving maul, with Steenson adding the conversion. By this stage Hughes and Simpson had appeared, with Baxter’s counterpart Dai Young hoping no doubt for an infusion of pace. Hughes was denied by a great bit of ruck defence by Lees before Slade’s sad incident as he caught his lower leg in an awkward position while taking a tackle. The replacement prop Moray Low rounded off a series of pick-and-goes for Exeter’s sixth try.
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