A hat-trick by try-scoring machine Denny Solomona gave Sale Sharks their fifth win on the spin in all competitions and restricted Wasps to extending their lead at the top of the Premiership by just a single losing bonus point.
There may be teeth grinding heavily at Castleford rugby league club, who are suing Solomona, his agent and Sale over the 23-year-old New Zealander quitting his 13-a-side contract two years early, last December.
But a new audience in union is already enjoying the exciting sight of a player with an outstanding nose for the goal-line that Sale’s director of rugby Steve Diamond has likened to possibly the finest ever crosser of codes, Jason Robinson.
Solomona said: “It feels outstanding but it’s credit to the boys who did the hard graft through the middle – if they don’t do that, we don’t get the joy on the edge.
“I played union growing up so it’s like riding a bike, I’m learning it back up and it’s fine.”
It is believed the Auckland-born Solomona will qualify for England next month, if paperwork showing three years’ residency stands up to scrutiny.
That would also make him a possible bolter selection for the British & Irish Lions, although the player who broke the Super League seasonal record for tries last year has previously said his heart lies with New Zealand and Samoa when the question arose in league.
Facing four of their former players in the Wasps 23 may have helped stoke the Sale fires as the visitors’ north-west hoodoo continued.
Wasps have managed just one victory in Manchester in the last decade, and they have yet to win at the AJ Bell Stadium in seven attempts.
Diamond had praised the likes of Mike Haley and Will Addison for eradicating unforced errors of late, and it was a witheringly efficient effort by Sale in the first half, give or take a lost scrum or two.
As for Solomona, he had five tries in his four Premiership matches before this, and six in seven overall, and he kept the amazing strike rate going as he became the first player to score in his first five matches in this competition.
In the space of two months Solomona is already the Premiership’s joint third top try scorer behind Wasps’ Christian Wade and Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni.
And Wade was a hapless victim of Solomona’s scoring spree that displayed all his finisher’s instincts from a variety of set-ups.
Wasps were 6-3 up with two penalty goals by Jimmy Gopperth to one from Sharks’ captain Addison when Solomona had his first try in the 19th minute.
A training-ground move from a line-out worked a treat as TJ Ioane drove infield, and scrum-half Mike Phillips cleared Wasps’ flanker Thomas Young from a ruck to give Solomona a clear path to the line.
Seventeen minutes later Solomona had the ball in space on the right, chipped towards the posts and a skidding slip by Wade allowed the pacy and powerful Kiwi to gather the bouncing ball.
The hat-trick came in the 39th minute from a Sale line-out in the Wasps 22. Hooker Rob Webber peeled into the midfield and sharp passing back to the right by Sam James, Addison and second-row Bryan Evans fed the lurking Solomona for a straightforward run-in.
Addison belied Sale’s difficulties with goal-kicking this season by landing all the conversions for a 24-9 lead and it got even better two minutes into the second half when the Sharks packed a line-out with backs and centre Mark Jennings rolled over for the bonus-point try, converted by Addison.
It was the sixth time this season Wasps have conceded a try bonus and Solomona might have had a fourth try of his own soon afterwards if had been able to scoop up or hack on a loose ball as Sale kicked out of defence.
No one in the Premiership is allowing the opposition to make more metres than Wasps, but maybe that is integral to their irresistible attack, even it took an age to get into gear in this match.
Their almost inevitable fightback started with a try for wing Josh Bassett and gathered momentum on 53 minutes as Wade and Kurtley Beale sent skipper Ashley Johnson over for the visitors’ second try.
Gopperth had converted the first but while he was off the field for a blood injury, Sale old boy Danny Cipriani was unable to add the extras, to leave the Sharks 31-21 ahead.
Addison’s penalty for Young’s side entry pushed the advantage out to 13 points, then
Wasps’ latest big-name signing, the 41-Test South Africa full-back Willie le Roux, came on for his debut after just a week to adjust to his new club.
A scintillating width-of-the-field try straight from a line-out was finished by Beale for Wasps, with Le Roux involved in the final exchange of passes after good initial work by Kyle Eastmond.
Gopperth had retaken his place on the field and his conversion trimmed Sale’s lead to 34-28 with 10 minutes left to play.
Solomona showed his defensive ability by tackling Le Roux into touch to add to an earlier cut-down of Eastmond.
Much as Wasps strained they could not find the winning converted try as their three-month unbeaten run in the Premiership came to an end.
Sale Sharks: tries: Solomona 3; conversions: Addison 3; penalty: Addison.
Wasps: tries: Bassett, Johnson; conversion: Gopperth; penalties: Gopperth 3.
Sale Sharks: M Haley; D Solomona, W Addison (capt), M Jennings (rep J Leota 70th min), B McGuigan; S James, M Phillips (P Stringer 69); R Harrison, R Webber, H Aulika (K Longbottom 66), B Evans, G Nott (B Curry 58), TJ Ioane (C Neild 49), M Lund, J Beaumont.
Wasps: K Beale; C Wade, J Gopperth (A Leiua 55-60), K Eastmond, J Bassett (W le Roux 58); D Cipriani, D Robson (J Simpson 60); M Mullan (S McIntyre 64), T Taylor, J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 64), M Symons, J Gaskell (W Rowlands 69), A Johnson (capt), T Young, A Rieder.
Referee: M Carley (RFU).