Ben Curry led Sale back into the title race at the Ricoh Arena and showed Eddie Jones that he is a breakdown predator in the same mould as his twin brother, England flanker Tom.
The 22-year-old delivered an inspirational captain’s performance as a rotated, supposedly weakened Sharks line-up eclipsed Wasps’ full-strength side with a thunderous demonstration of forward power.
Curry edged his ruck battle with the hosts’ in-form Red Rose contender, Jack Willis, in front of watching national coach Jones, to enhance his quest for a first Test cap in the near future.
‘Ben Curry is one of the best back-row forwards in the country,’ said Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby. ‘He hasn’t had the recognition with England yet, but I’m sure that will come. He was outstanding tonight.’
Diamond praised his players’ improved discipline and the physicality was typified by two ‘6ft 4in nightclub bouncers’ in the second row – Matt Postlethwaite and James Phillips.
Sale’s win was also founded on a devastating onslaught in the scrum.
While the Cheshire club have reinforced their squad with a raft of South African recruits, their English contingent came to the fore in Coventry, especially Ross Harrison – the 27-year-old prop from Bolton who was instrumental in the dismantling of Wasps’ set piece.
In the aftermath of his side’s capitulation at home against Exeter last Friday, Diamond had warned that two successive defeats had cast doubt on their title prospects. ‘We’re out of the race unless we get ourselves together in the next three weeks,’ he said.
Well, they got themselves together for this game, despite having to rest most of their leading lights ahead of a showdown with Bristol in Salford on Saturday. They were dominant up front and knocked Wasps – who had surged into play-off contention either side of the season shut-down – out of their stride with ferociously aggressive defence all over the field.
The game was no classic in poor conditions, but the visitors were ruthlessly efficient.
With their pack winning the collisions, AJ MacGinty’s five penalties put Sale in command before a decisive try midway through the second half.
From an attacking lineout, the forwards rumbled into the home 22 before the ball was shipped right and Luke James touched down. MacGinty converted.
Wasps couldn’t even claim a losing bonus point, despite Willis’s late try, to add to two penalties by Jimmy Gopperth.