England hopefuls Iain Balshaw and Mike Tindall warmed up for the RBS 6 Nations by steering rampant Gloucester to an emphatic bonus-point victory over injury-ravaged Sale.
Balshaw scored one of Gloucester’s five tries as they moved third above Wasps in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP, while Tindall’s thrilling midfield creativity repeatedly tormented Sale’s defence.
The only low point for the hosts came when fly-half Ryan Lamb departed on a stretcher after amassing 15 points through a try, drop-goal, penalty and two conversions.
Lamb went to hospital for an x-ray on his right ankle, but Gloucester shrugged off his absence as hooker Olivier Azam and captain Marco Bortolami added tries that effectively ended the game as a contest inside 45 minutes.
GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP champions Sale, minus more than a dozen injured players, bravely plugged away, and tries for scrum-half Ben Foden, lock Dean Schofield and centre Chris Mayor offered glimpses of what they might have achieved with a fully-fit squad.
Full-back Rhys Jones provided an assured presence, especially with his goalkicking that netted three conversions and a penalty, while Foden and Schofield were often heroic influences in adversity.
Gloucester, though, provided the headline performers in Balshaw and Tindall who, on today’s evidence, made overwhelming cases to start against Scotland at Twickenham next weekend.
England head coach Brian Ashton is due to name his starting line-up on Monday, with Balshaw favourite for the full-back berth and Tindall appearing a strong bet at outside centre.
While Sale crashed to a sixth defeat from their last eight Premiership games – a title play-off place is slowly slipping away – Gloucester preserved an unbeaten home league record this season.
Sale were again decimated by injuries, with the likes of Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Lionel Faure all missing among a casualty count that had climbed comfortably into double figures.
Wales Under-19 international Jones – son of Sale coach Kingsley Jones – made his Premiership debut in a side captained by French number eight Sebastien Chabal, while scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth continued in the number 10 shirt.
Gloucester made a blistering start, slicing open Sale’s defence after just 85 seconds through some brilliant approach work by Tindall and Balshaw.
Tindall’s initial midfield thrust scattered defenders to all parts before Balshaw’s pace and flanker Andy Hazell’s power created room for Lamb to claim a try he also converted.
Jones opened Sale’s account through an angled penalty, but there was no stopping Gloucester as a Lamb drop-goal was quickly followed by Balshaw darting 30 metres unopposed to touch down in the corner.
Lamb added the extras, and Sale already faced a damage-limitation exercise at 17-3 adrift, yet they regrouped admirably as impressive set-piece work created space for Foden to dart over.
Jones’ conversion cut the gap to seven points in a richly-entertaining contest, but the second quarter proved a bitter-sweet experience for Gloucester.
Lamb landed a penalty, then his afternoon ended abruptly as he was carried off after going down injured in open play.
Gloucester’s impressive momentum was not disrupted though, with Azam and Bortolami crashing over for tries in quick succession either side of half-time.
Ludovic Mercier, on as replacement for the stricken Lamb, converted both tries and, with more than 30 minutes remaining, Gloucester held an unassailable 34-10 advantage.
Sale could have collapsed without trace, given such a sizeable deficit, but they countered through tries by Schofield and Mayor.
Gloucester appeared briefly rattled and it took a Mercier penalty to settle them down until substitute Olly Morgan claimed their final try, which Mercier converted to leave the west-country club handily placed behind GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP pacesetters Bristol and Leicester.