Sale claim bonus-point win over Gloucester
April 12, 2013
Sale take big step towards survival
Dwayne Peel touched down twice as Sale Sharks all but secured their Aviva Premiership survival with a dominant 32-9 bonus-point victory over Gloucester.
Johnny Leota, Peel and Cameron Shepherd all went over for Sale in the first half as they took a 22-6 lead into half-time. Freddie Burns responded for the Cherry and Whites with two penalties before the break and added another in the second period.
But it was not to be as the hosts' scrum-half and Mark Cueto crossed the whitewash late on to move the Sharks above London Irish into 10th and dent Gloucester's play-off hopes in the process.
The visitors came into this game off the back of a 41-31 defeat to Biarritz which ended their participation in the Amlin Challenge Cup. However, despite that setback, their form has been impressive in the domestic competition and they beat defending champions Harlequins 17-15 in their last league match.
Nigel Davies' men therefore came into the encounter with confidence and intent, but they found themselves 12-3 down after just seven minutes through their own undoing.
Only 56 seconds had elapsed when Leota touched down in the left-hand corner. After Sale had turned the ball over impressively at the breakdown, wing Cueto kicked into open field. Although Gloucester scrum-half Dan Robson tracked back, his clearance was changed down by the Sharks' outside centre and the hosts were ahead.
Burns did reduce the arrears almost immediately before another mistake - this time from full-back Rob Cook - saw Peel go over. Nick Macleod added the conversion and Steve Diamond's side led 12-3.
Despite those errors, the away team still looked dangerous with ball in hand and their powerful back-rower made several indents into the Sale defence. Furthermore their England international stand-off deservedly took them to within seven points through a penalty.
Sale's aggressive rearguard was causing them problems at the contact area, though, and another turnover nearly ended in Cueto crossing the whitewash. The pressure the Manchester outfit exerted eventually saw the Cherry and Whites infringe at the scrum and Macleod duly extended their advantage.
But back came Gloucester. Robson, making up for his earlier mistake, burst through a gap and off-loaded to Jonny May. The wing looked certain to score before a crucial tap-tackle ended the move.
Johnny Leota scored the first of Sale's five tries on the night, less than a minute into the match © Getty Images
The away team's endeavour and ambition could not be faulted but every error was capitalised upon by a Sale side who were playing with a verve and confidence not seen too often this season.
Their third try provided the perfect example of that when a well-constructed attack sent Shepherd through a hole and the former Australian international rounded Cook and touched down. Macleod was once again on target from the tee and the Sharks led 22-6 at the interval.
The Sharks started the second period with similar intent with the half-backs directing operations impressively and the forwards making ground in contact, but it was Gloucester who were first to register after the break when Burns kicked a penalty from their first sustained passage of play.
However, Sale continued to control proceedings and nearly scored the bonus-point touchdown through Leota, but the Television Match Official ruled he had not grounded the ball.
Although the away side defended resolutely with Sale pressurising their rearguard, the pressure eventually told when Dave Lewis was sin-binned for a cynical infringement.
That allowed Peel to snipe around the fringes and go over to effectively secure their place in next year's Premiership, before Cueto rounded off an outstanding performance with a last-minute score.
Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond acknowledged that his side were effectively safe, despite the fact that London Welsh could still mathematically catch them over their final three matches. He also felt that the form his team has shown since the turn of the year has allowed them to shrug off the fear of the drop and look forward with confidence.
"Considering that I don't think they've (Welsh) won a game since October, it's down to them to win games," Diamond said. "I think the form we've shown since Boxing Day beared (sic) fruit tonight. The defence was outstanding whereas it was non-existent against London Irish.
"I think keeping the club in the Premiership is a great achievement and the players take a lot of the credit. A lot of things will be reviewed at the end of the season but the ground's becoming a home now.
"We moved to a new stadium, we had new coaching staff and we probably weren't as stable behind the scenes as we should have been. We got pretty much nothing from seven or eight games, apart from one bonus point, so we've come from a point where everything had to be put together, we had to really fight and get the players to care."
His opposite number Nigel Davies was left to mull over a poor performance from his team that lacked energy and passion. The result leaves them in fifth place and struggling to break into the top four play-off places.
"We're relying on other results around us but we just have to wait and see," Davies said. "More than anything we need to finish strongly. We let ourselves down today and I apologise for that, but we've got to bounce back from this.
"We've been knocked down today as a group, but that happens in life, so the important thing is that we get up as we've got two games ahead of us."
Mark Cueto managed to escape from Gloucester's defence to add to his record Premiership try total © Getty Images
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