Wasps gain revenge over Exeter Chiefs

Date published: January 2 2021 - David Skippers

Exeter fell to their first defeat since October as Wasps avenged last season’s Premiership final heartache with a 34-5 victory over the champions.

Once again the Ricoh Arena proved to be an unhappy hunting ground for the Chiefs, who paid the price for resting internationals Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner and Henry Slade.

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Their most recent defeat came at the same venue almost three months ago – albeit after fielding a shadow team – and on this occasion they failed to live with the speed and energy of a Wasps side armed with a point to prove after succumbing 19-13 in the Twickenham showpiece in October.

Flanker James Gaskell and prop Simon McIntyre each crossed twice and there was also a try for full-back Lima Sopoaga. The bonus point was secured with 12 minutes left and two of the touchdowns were high quality.

Wasps, brilliantly directed by half-backs Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga and led by man of the match Joe Launchbury, were utterly dominant for the final half-hour as Exeter’s perfect start to the league came to a shuddering halt.

The only cloud on the horizon was an injury to England flanker Jack Willis, who failed to appear for the second half after being hurt during a pick and go.

Even without their Test stars, who were observing mandatory rest periods following their involvement in the Autumn Nations Cup, Exeter made a solid start.

Handling errors from Launchbury and Jack Willis hampered Wasps’ progress and they broke downfield with one opportunistic raid, but otherwise the opening 15 minutes was dominated by the Chiefs pack.

That was turned on its head, however, when Wasps’ first visit in the 22 climaxed with a series of pick and goes – initially launched from a line-out until Gaskell forced his way over with the TMO providing confirmation.

The packs continued to take centre stage with Exeter the next to pound the whitewash but the home defence showed remarkable resilience in an area of the pitch where the Chiefs are traditionally lethal.

Wasps finished the half with a Sopoaga penalty and, after a first 40 minutes of forward attrition, play was lit up by a dazzling try from each side.

Exeter were the first to pounce when Joe Simmonds slid into space as part of a counter-attack launched from inside the Chiefs’ half and, when openside Richard Capstick broke Tom Willis’ tackle, he still had Sopoaga to beat.

Showing impressive pace, he galloped around the Kiwi full-back and over the line with team-mate Tomas Francis diving on top of him in celebration.

Wasps replied with a high-octane try that had multiple contributors but at its heart was Umaga, whose decisive act was to send Launchbury through a gap and – one pass later – Gaskell was over for his second.

Six minutes later and the 2019-20 runners-up were over again as wing Josh Bassett entered the midfield at pace, drew the cover and sent Sopoaga over.

Total Wasps domination followed as Exeter were pinned by relentless waves of forward drives and inevitably the breakthrough came when McIntyre drove over from close range, before the replacement prop added a similar-looking second in injury time.