With second-placed Saracens also beaten at Bristol, Exeters first home league defeat in 14 months does not alter their position as the league leaders but it could just give their play-off rivals some timely encouragement. The top four qualifiers may even include Wasps themselves, this heart-warming result on a distinctly chilly afternoon having hoisted them to fifth place, three points behind Harlequins in fourth.
Read more No wonder Rob Baxter described it as a kick in the pants for his team, whose 100th home Premiership fixture was not meant to end in this fashion. Having played so well at Leicester the previous week, Exeter turned the ball over no fewer than 21 times, suffered recurring lineout issues and were also guilty of a couple of costly missed tackles. In a league of such tight margins such inaccuracy rarely goes unpunished.
Exeter 19-26 Wasps: Visitors claim first win at Sandy Park and banish relegation fears
Wasps were required to make twice as many tackles and had to defend for lengthy periods but their international forward trio of Joe Launchbury, Brad Shields and Nathan Hughes worked tirelessly, with the scrum-half Joe Simpson finishing joint top of the tackle charts with 25. I dont think Exeter played poorly, suggested Wasps director of rugby, Dai Young, delighted by his sides unexpected away success. They chucked everything at us and we stood up to it all. I couldnt be prouder of the boys.
If it helped that Exeter lost their twinkle-toed full-back Santiago Cordero prematurely with a strained knee and also saw Jack Nowell limp off with a sore ankle, Wasps had to cope with the early loss of the hooker Tom Cruse, who had felt unwell before kick-off and lasted only 10 minutes. By that point Exeter were already a try in front courtesy of Nowell and had a second on the board when Nic White burrowed over from close range. Nowell, sporting a distinctly unsubtle new sponsored headguard, was again involved in the buildup and a routine win appeared to be taking shape.
Any semblance of Exeters rhythm swiftly disappeared, however, beneath a welter of wasteful offloads, average decision-making and some game-slowing tactics from their opponents. Wasps responded with three tries in a mad nine minutes at the end of the half, Willie Le Roux, the temporary replacement Juan de Jongh and Marcus Watson taking advantage of repeated Exeter disarray. Watsons try was particularly shambolic, a hopeful Hughes grubber kick prompting a mass defensive mix-up that saw the loose ball bounce straight into the arms of the former England Sevens flyer.
When Hughes was subsequently penalised for a no-arms charge on Ian Whitten the stage seemed set for a trademark Exeter catch and drive try but, not for the first time, the Wasps pack had other ideas. The Chiefs Scotland international Sam Skinner has a broken foot but Jonny Hill, Dave Dennis and Mitch Lees should be back for their next game at home to Harlequins, and their England back-rower Sam Simmonds is also set to be available within a fortnight or so.
The No 8 had what would have been a bonus point try ruled out for double movement, but it was now Exeter doing the chasing. Zhvania then put the game to bed with Wasps fourth and a remarkable try in which he exchanged a one-two with centre Gabriele Lovobalavu and reached for the line.
A nine-point cushion at the top will not spare the league leaders from Baxters wrath in the debrief, with the Exeter director of rugby unimpressed by both their error count and lack of attacking decisiveness.
For Young and Wasps, in contrast, this was a lovely bonus which could yet make their final home game against Harlequins a play-off eliminator. This Premiership campaign has been reliably unpredictable all season and there could yet be a sting in the tale.
Wasps claimed a first-ever Gallagher Premiership Rugby win at Sandy Park as Nathan Hughes inspired them to a superb bonus-point win over the league leaders.
The No.8 was at the heart of everything Wasps did well as they came storming back from a slow start to claim one of the best wins of their season that lifts them to fifth.
Wasps: Le Roux; Watson, Daly, Lovobalavu, Bassett (De Jongh 35-41); Sopoaga, Simpson; Zhvania (McIntyre 63), Cruse (Johnson 10), Cooper-Wooley (Brookes 45), Launchbury (Morris 71), Gaskell (Rowlands 58), Shields, Carr, Hughes
Jack Nowell and Nic White went over early on for the runaway league leaders who have already locked up a home semi-final.
Marcus Watson had already been denied once in the corner by a fine covering tackle from Olly Woodburn before he put Willie le Roux in the clear for their first.
Soon after Hughes picked and went through the middle of the ruck and offloaded to replacement Juan de Jongh to go over.
And Wasps were not done there in the first half, Hughes this time putting in a clever kick that sat up and caused chaos in the Chiefs back field, Watson profiting to run clear.
From a 12-0 hole, Wasps were 21-12 to the good at the interval and they fronted up superbly in the second half as well.
Zurabi Zhvania went over after fine interplay with Hughes and Gaby Lovobalavu for their bonus point score.
And while Jack Yeandle claimed Chiefs’ third, Wasps’ defence was decisive in the final ten minutes and they completed an amazing victory, the Chiefs first home loss in the league since February 2018 and Wasps’ first on this ground in the league.