Martin Johnson was dealt another injury blow ahead of England’s autumn internationals after Mike Tindall limped off after just 16 minutes of his side’s Guinness Premiership defeat at Sale.
Tindall, who played alongside Johnson in England’s 2003 World Cup-winning side, appeared to have suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury which had ruled him out of Gloucester’s previous three matches. He attempted to chase his own kick from near the halfway line but pulled up immediately and looked in severe distress as he trudged off the field with his head in his hands.
The injury makes the 31-year-old centre a huge doubt for England’s opening Test against Australia at Twickenham next Saturday and was all the more frustrating as Johnson had released him from the England squad to play for Gloucester and prove his fitness.
While Johnson’s problems are mounting, life is not getting any easier for Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath – whose side lost despite outscoring Sale by three tries to one. Gloucester’s notorious disciplinary problems surfaced again in the 35th minute when Tindall’s replacement, Charlie Sharples, was shown a red card and flanker Andy Hazell and prop Paul Doran-Jones were also lost to injury.
Yet despite playing for more than half the match with a man less, Gloucester refused to buckle and hauled themselves right back into the match in the 66th minute with a converted try from Will James. Greg Somerville went over with two minutes remaining but it was not enough to avoid a third successive defeat as Sale eased the pressure on director of rugby Kingsley Jones after a powerful first-half display saw them establish a 16-8 lead.
Jones was effectively given a vote of confidence from Sale owner Brian Kennedy earlier this week, but his players were worthy victors in this game.
Charlie Hodgson, who provided his customary authority from behind the scrum and also kicked seven penalties and a conversion, got Sale off the mark with a third-minute penalty but opposite number Nicky Robinson soon drew Gloucester level with a clever drop-goal. Sale then lost centre Andy Tuilagi to injury in the 12th minute before Tindall followed him off the field four minutes later.
Yet the hosts begun to stamp their authority on proceedings and another penalty from Hodgson restored their lead before they claimed their only try of the match. It came in the 28th minute when scrum-half Dwayne Peel showed some neat footwork and a delightful offload to send compatriot Lee Thomas scuttling over the line from 20 metres out.
Hodgson added the extras but three minutes later Gloucester conjured a well-worked try in the left corner after Tom Voyce burrowed his way over the line. Robinson could not convert and Hodgson added another penalty before Sharples was sent off for reckless challenge on Marika Vakacegu.
Robinson cut the gap to five points shortly after the restart with another penalty but Hodgson added two more to put Sale 22-11 ahead by the hour mark.
Sale also lost Jonny Kennedy and Brent Cockbain to injury but, despite having an extra man, they created precious little in the second half. And Gloucester hauled themselves right back into it in the 66th minute when Will James crashed over the whitewash from close range and Robnson added the conversion to bring his side to within three points of Sale.
Yet the pendulum gradually swung back in the hosts’ favour as Hodgson expertly landed two penalties to see them home and dry before Somerville touched down in the right corner to earn his side a deserved bonus point.