David Humphreys stated the prospect of a first win in 15 years at Sale Sharks helped drive injury-hit Gloucester Rugby to their dramatic 12-11 win on Friday night.
Greg Laidlaw started at No.10 for the first time in three years at the AJ Bell Stadium and proved to be the difference as he kicked four from four – including a 77th-minute penalty – to keep Gloucester’s European Champions Cup hopes alive.
The visitors had to dig deep and their depleted squad was evident at the end of the match as they finished with three scrum halves and four centres in their backline, not to mention the three No.8s on the pitch at the final whistle.
Humphreys, the Cherry and Whites’ director of rugby, said: “We know how good we can be on our day, we know we can perform well and the big challenge for us – the message was – we haven’t won here since 2001.
“Last year we came here and were embarrassed in the way we played – we were physically dominated.
“We had to come and bring the Exeter performance in terms of physical edge, bring that here tonight and I thought that was there for the whole game and when you consider we finished with three scrum-halves and four centres in our back line, it is just huge credit to our players and the amount of work they have done this year.
“We know we can play well, we know when we turn up in the right frame of mind the ability we have. Even with the injuries, you still look at the players that have come in and they performed really well tonight.
“Everyone has been asking what happened in that five-game period where we lost every match and there’s no one single answer, there are lots of small reasons.
“That’s what we’ve got to make sure, come the end of the season, that we’re much better going into next year.”
Two Danny Cipriani penalties and Johnny Leota’s try had seen Sale ahead in the second half, with Cipriani missing the chance to extend their 11-6 advantage further with the conversion on 55 minutes.
The defeat means fifth-placed Sale’s hopes of securing European Champions Cup rugby next season are no longer in their own hands, as Northampton Saints and Harlequins now have the chance to overtake Steve Diamond’s men this weekend.
Sale’s director of rugby said: “I think Gloucester deserved to win on the night, with a fine kicker like they have got, they deserved their win.
“We don’t do ourselves any favours most of the time and in that second-half we had opportunities to get field position and didn’t get it and we coughed the ball up in the wide channels when we got it there – so no qualms with the result.
“We’re disappointed – there are two or three silly penalties that we gave away. The penalty count was 13-13, and that’s the way it goes. I am disappointed but these things happen and we’ve had a good season and we need to get ourselves up for Newcastle away next week. One would hope the top six is still in reach.”
Sale Sharks: Haley, Addison, James, Leota, Edwards, Cipriani, Stringer; Harrison (Lewis-Roberts 56), Taylor (Briggs 71), Cobilas (Mujait 60), Evans, Ostrikov (Mills 60), Neild, Seymour (Easter 64), Ioane
Replacements not used: Mitchell, Ford, Jennings
Gloucester Rugby: Atkinson, Cook (Creed 25), Trinder (Braley 64), Twelvetrees, Thorley, Laidlaw, Heinz; Thomas (Wood 55), Hibbard, Afoa, Savage, Thursh, Moriarty (Ludlow 55), Kvesic (Evans 67), Kalamafoni (Morgan 49)
Replacements not used: Cole, McNulty
Penalties: Cipriani 2
Penalties: Laidlaw 4
Referee: Thomas Foley