Wasps vs Sale – A breakdown

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Wasps’ unbeaten run in the premiership came to an end yesterday at the AJ Bell Stadium against Sale Sharks with a 34-28 victory to the home team.

Wasps’ losing bonus point extended their lead at the top of the table to six points over second place Saracens who have lost their last two matches, but Sale continued their march to the top half of the table.

I’m not going to waste any time in the article bemoaning the missed clearly forward passes, because they were missed for both teams. I’d simply like to take a detailed look at Denny Solomona’s first try, and explain how it was expertly worked by a team that had clearly done their homework.

First let’s look at it in full.


You can see the ball is taken cleanly from the lineout and a ruck is formed further in-field. This slightly increases the pressure on the questionable Wasps’ defence. It could easily be passed in either direction meaning that the defensive line has to set in both directions. However that isn’t what is done. Sale take advantage of the fact that Wasps tend not to compete aggressively at the breakdown and get the ball out quickly. Solomona picks the ball up, runs straight through the middle, and runs is for a simple touch down underneath the posts.

At first view it seems that Sale have simply taken advantage of a gap in the defensive line and scored an opportunistic try.

I don’t think that is the case, and I’d like to explain exactly why I think this was a beautifuly worked try that had probably been practiced time and time again on the training field.

Ioane, the sale flanker runs hard into contact. The combination of his sheer power, the proximity of the try line, and the new laws regarding high tackles mean it takes two defensive players to bring him down. Sale’s 10, 12, and 7 all drive right over the ruck giving quick ball, and this is where it starts to get very interesting.

Lund positions himself over the ruck as you would expect of any decent forward. However Jennings (12) and James (10) step through and stop. As they do this you can see Thomas Young of Wasps rolling clear and attempting to re-join the defensive line. Mike Phillips runs into the ruck and directly into the back of Young. This is a pretty common tactic and is often used to try to get an obstruction call from the ref. If the defensive player doesn’t get out of the way and blocks te play it is a clear foul, so Young runs forward. However instead of going for the ball Phillips sticks with Young and pushes him to the side. Not hard, but enough for him to have to take a step, which he does.

This not only creates a small amount of space for Solomona to run directly through, but also puts Young directly inbetween Solomona who has the ball, and Ashley Johnson who is now unable to make the tackle. The two collide, Young falls to the floor and Johnson is stopped dead in his tracks.

Jennings and James have both also stopped, and almost coincidentally are right in-between Solomona and Mullen leaving him with a simple run in.

Let’s look at the play in slow motion and see it all unfold in it’s true glory.


It was a really good example of the kind of play that Wasps are vulnerable to because of the way they focus on searching for the attacking opportunity all the time, and in doing so can sometimes leave themselves spread a little wide. A team with heavy hitting players who are keeping the ball in the centre and playing for fast ball can create these opportunites. Especially when Wasps are missing Haskell, Hughes, Launchbury, Jones, and Thompson.

You could argue that what Sale did was technically against the letter of the law, but it is no worse than any other team does. And Wasps do it as much as anyone else if not more when our hard hitting forwards aren’t away or injured.

Individually Young, Reider, and Johnson are all perfectly capable of holding their own at the very top level (to the great credit of Alex Reider who has no right to be as good as he is after the short amount of time he’s been with us). But as a combination they are perhaps a little light. Perhaps a little lacking in the aggressive edge that is proving such a positive influence on the current England set-up.

Either way, Sale played a great game, thoroughly deserved the result and hopefully showed us exactly what we need to be working on if we are to put in a serious challenge for some silverware this season.

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4 thoughts on “Wasps vs Sale – A breakdown

  1. It was like watching American football, running interference is what they call it. Probably wouldn’t have happened with Haskell and Launchbury on the pitch. There have been a few examples of this sort of play with tries being scored recently.

    • I’m not a big fan of the American Football analogy if I’m being honest. I think the principles might be the same, but the reality is a lot more subtle.

      That being said there is a lot we can learn from watching that sport, even if it has to be adapted for the English game.

  2. As a Sale supporter, can I compliment you on being a very fair and knowledgeable writer. Many opposing supporters would call that a cheats try and cry “Foul” etc. You acknowledge that every team does it, including your own, which is marvellous to see. It is actually nice to see something our team worked on in training actually come to fruition!!! There were quite a few occassions that I thought either team could have been called for delivering a forward pass in the build up to a try, but all in all, I thought the ref had a good game and tried to let it flow as well as he could. I am not saying that as a victorious supporter either, in our defeat to Quins a few weeks ago, I complimented JP Doyle on his handling of the game too…(although I had to wash my mouth out with bleach for that!). All in all, the article is very good and explains how the try actually came to be scored, rather than just look at an opportunistic finish by Denny. Cheers.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the kind comments. I do try to be objective about these things but it’s hard sometimes. 🙂 It was one of those moves that would have been beautiful if my team did it, and was clearly cheating when the opposition did it.;)

      To be honest I disagreed with a lot of the decisions the ref made, but as you say he tended to err on the side of allowing the game to flow. And all we can really ask is they are consistent, and I think he was definitely that.

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