Wasps 35-15 Saracens: Wasps finish top of Aviva Premiership
Last Updated: 06/05/17 8:30pm
Elliot Daly ran in the critical try to ensure Wasps finished the regular Aviva Premiership season at the summit of the table after a 35-15 victory over Saracens.
Dai Young's men, pacesetters for most of the campaign, were in danger of surrendering first place at the Ricoh Arena after Exeter left Gloucester with a bonus-point victory.
But Daly capitalised on a Saracens counter-attack that broke down to gallop home in the 71st minute, securing a maximum five-point haul for Wasps, who pipped the Chiefs on matches won to set up a home semi-final against Leicester.
Gift-wrapping a resounding win was a final late try from man of the match Thomas Young, who completed his hat-trick.
Wasps had already set a new Premiership record for tries scored in a 22-match season, beating the 85 amassed by Newcastle in 1997-98, while Christian Wade's score equalled the milestone of 17 individual tries that has stood for 20 years.
Saracens, the reigning Premiership and European champions, trailed 23-15 until Daly switched on the after-burners and attacked from inside their 22 as they sought the victory that would secure them a play-off at Allianz Park.
Instead, they must travel to Exeter in a fortnight in search of a place of the Twickenham showpiece, ending their 22-match league campaign in third.
However, they could at least draw comfort in the knowledge they travelled to Coventry with a weakened team missing five British and Irish Lions and prolific wing Chris Ashton.
On a day when all fixtures are subject to a synchronised kick-off to protect the integrity of the league, the Ricoh Arena's independent safety officer ordered a 15-minute delay due to crowd congestion outside the ground.
A Premiership Rugby spokesman said that crowd safety overrides established final-day protocol.
It was Wasps who were quicker to swat aside the delay by making an imposing start with overseas stars Kurtley Beale and Willie le Roux making notable early runs, but Saracens' defence was typically robust.
It took 15 minutes for the first points to be registered, Jimmy Gopperth sending a penalty between the uprights, but from the ensuing kick-off the champions hit back aided by a defensive lapse.
Schalk Burger and Schalk Brits carried with conviction and when Ben Spencer arrived at the breakdown, a big hole appeared that the scrum fully exploited to touch down under the posts.
A brilliantly-executed short-range kick by Danny Cipriani - who was playing on the front foot as a result of Daly's break - was gathered by Young to propel Wasps back into the lead and the title pretenders then displayed their defensive mettle.
One big hit secured a crucial turnover before Michael Rhodes knocked on after being tackled forcefully and a period of sustained pressure from Saracens ended with a lengthy Marcelo Bosch penalty.
A Wasps counter-attack was ended with a blatant block by Sean Maitland on Wade that earned an immediate yellow card from Wayne Barnes and resulted in another three points from Gopperth's boot.
Now the pressure was building on the visiting line, starting with a five-metre scrum that owed everything to a committed chase before ending when le Roux's flat pass sent Young over for his second try.
The carrying of Wasps hooker Ashley Johnson, who had replaced the injured Tommy Taylor, was becoming a growing feature of the game but the home side were struggling to take their chances as Gopperth missed a third shot at goal.
Finally, they made the breakthrough their play deserved when Wade was on hand to gather and touch down after Saracens failed to deal with a kick through by Kurtley Beale.
Spencer wriggled over as the champions responded with a precise series of forward drives that were brought to a successful conclusion by their scrum-half.
Play swung from end to end, Wasps replacement Dan Robson somehow unable to touch down after Le Roux kicked on a dubious turnover.
But Daly showed stronger finishing skills when he raced on to Le Roux's pass after Saracens dropped the ball when countering from deep inside their own hands and with two minutes left Young completed his hat-trick.