Wasps 13 Exeter Chiefs 7
EXETER Chiefs slipped to a third successive Premiership defeat for the first time in three years as they went down to old foes Wasps.
The Devon side gave themselves hope of victory when hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie (pictured) crossed for a try just past the midway point of the second half.
Gareth Steenson converted and Exeter only trailed 10-7, but Jimmy Gopperth’s penalty two minutes from time secured the win for the Midlanders in a repeat of last season’s Premiership final at Twickenham.
It means Exeter have lost top spot for the first time since October, but they are only one point behind Saracens, and still have a four-point advantage over Wasps.
It was a much-improved display by Exeter from their performance against Worcester the week before, but the tries seem to have dried up, with only two in the last 160 minutes of rugby.
They are also getting the rough end of the stick with a lot of refereeing decisions at the moment.
They will be eager to get back to winning ways when they entertain Northampton Saints at Sandy Park next Saturday.
The story of Exeter’s first half was about a series of missed chances.
Three times they got to within a whisker of the home line, but each time they failed to get across the whitewash, with Dave Ewers coming the closest when he was deemed to have been held up by referee JP Doyle on the half-hour mark.
Wasps’ first-half try came when Exeter appeared to have control of a scrum close to their own line, but the ball shot out on the hosts’ side, Jack Willis picked up, and possession was moved to the right where Willie Le Roux put Marcus Watson over for a score in the corner.
Danny Cipriani banged over an excellent touchline conversion and Wasps led 7-0.
Jonny Hill was yellow carded for a late tackle on Le Roux in the lead-up to that score, but the Chiefs did well to negotiate the next 10 minutes without conceding before they were back up to full complement.
When Hill did return, Wasps thought they had scored a second try, but Josh Bassett’s effort was ruled out for a forward pass by Gopperth.
Wasps replacement centre Brendan Macken was also denied a touchdown when he was held up, but Gopperth slotted a penalty for offside in the 53rd minute to make it 10-0.
There was then a long delay as Wasps replacement back rower Alex Rieder was stretchered from the field with a serious left leg injury.
His replacement, Ashley Johnson, though was only on the pitch for three minutes before he was sin-binned for an out-of-control, high tackle at a ruck.
The Chiefs immediately capitalised, with Steenson finding a superb touchfinder and Cowan-Dickie finishing off the catch-and-drive, which Steenson improved.
Cowan-Dickie looked mystified as he was immediately substituted, and replaced by Academy hooker Jack Innard, coming on for his Premiership debut with 17 minutes still to play, but Chiefs’ director of rugby Rob Baxter explained afterwards that the England forward’s hamstring was tightening up and they dared not risk losing him, with three other hookers currently injured.
It was a tough introduction for Innard, who did well around the field, but failed to find his jumpers with two line-out throws on Exeter’s own 22-metre line.
Gopperth’s 78th-minute penalty left the Chiefs needing a converted try to snatch victory in the closing stages, but they spent much of that time defending in their own half, and Wasps hung on in a game that also saw them lose Watson, Cipriani and Willis to injury.
Wasps: W Le Roux, M Watson (C Wade 54), G Lovobalavu (B Macken 20-28), J Gopperth, J Bassett, D Cipriani (B Macken 49), D Robson, S McIntyre (M Mullan 28-37), T Cruse, M Moore (J Cooper-Woolley 53), J Gaskell (capt), K Myall (W Rowlands 67), J Willis (A Rieder 51, A Johnson 57), T Young, G Thompson. Replacement not used: J Simpson.
Exeter Chiefs: L Turner, S Cordero, O Devoto, S Hill, O Woodburn (I Whitten 56), G Steenson (capt), W Chudley (S Townsend 61), A Hepburn (B Moon 49), L Cowan-Dickie (J Innard 62), T Francis (G Holmes 49), M Lees, J Hill (S Skinner 53), D Ewers (T Waldrom 53), J Salvi, D Armand. Replacement not used: J Simmonds.
Wasps: Try: Watson; Con: Cipriani; Pens: Gopperth (2).
Exeter Chiefs: Try: Cowan-Dickie; Con: Steenson.
Yellow cards – Wasps: Johnson 60; Exeter: J Hill 14.
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU).