Danny Cipriani inspires Wasps to play-off place with win over Northampton
Elliot Daly limps off after injuring his left arm.
Danny Cipriani and James Haskell marked their final home appearances for Wasps by helping to secure a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs with a 36-29 victory over Northampton.
Cipriani, who is thought to be joining either Racing 92 or Stade Francais next season, took centre stage at the Ricoh Arena by orchestrating the downfall of determined opposition while England head coach Eddie Jones watched from the stands.
Jones has steadfastly refused to pick Cipriani but he can only have been impressed by the vision and handling he displayed in the penultimate round of the regular Premiership season.
Haskell stepped off the bench as Wasps were in the process of building a commanding lead and, while his arrival was warmly greeted by team-mates and fans, it was the prelude to a collapse from the title contenders.
Leading 33-17 with 25 minutes remaining, they lost focus and paid the price as Northampton struck twice in quick succession to cause ripples of panic around Coventry.
A penalty by Jimmy Gopperth eased the anxiety but the most telling contribution by Haskell, who has yet to find a new club, was a high tackle that meant a late try for Josh Bassett was disallowed.
The victory might have come at considerable cost for club and country, however, as Elliot Daly limped off after injuring his left arm while trying to stop Tuala’s try.
Wasps struck in each corner as part of a dominant opening quarter that burst into life when Christian Wade, benefiting from an initial break by flanker Jack Willis, was sent over by Willie le Roux.
The South Africa full-back later supplied the scoring pass to Daly, but it was the distribution of Cipriani that created the chance as his perfectly-timed long pass found the sprinting Le Roux.
Northampton interrupted the tries with a superb score of their own that was launched from inside their 22 and given fresh impetus when Cobus Reinach slipped between Cipriani and Gopperth before being finished by Teimana Harrison.
Wasps’ line cracked again in the 26th minute, exposing a frailty as repeated pick and goes concluded when Fijian lock Api Ratuniyarawa burrowed over from close range.
Only Gopperth’s boot was keeping daylight between the teams but, early in the second half, there was a decisive shift in the home side’s favour.
It started when Luther Burrell was sent to the sin-bin for sliding into Wade and catching his thigh with his knee in an attempted trip, but the Wasps wing soon had his revenge.
Once again it was a line-out that provided the platform for the title challengers to attack and once again it was Cipriani and Gopperth who manipulated the space before Le Roux was set free to draw the remaining defenders and feed Wade.
The bonus point arrived when Guy Thompson, another player departing the Ricoh Arena at the end of the season, forced a hole as he broke from the ruck and, when the ball was released, the Cipriani-Gopperth-Le Roux axis used quick hands to send Juan De Jongh in.
Northampton threw caution to the wind by attacking from deep in their own half, initially through George North and then Jamie Gibson, who showed Daly a clean pair of heals, before Alex Mitchell crossed in the corner.
Suddenly the deficit was down to four points as Wasps’ crumbling defence splintered again in the 69th minute and Foden sent Ahsee Tuala over, but the home side did not concede again.