Tom Varndell equalled the all-time Aviva Premiership Rugby try record as Bristol Rugby overcame a 13-point deficit to run out 24-23 winners over Sale Sharks, recording their first away victory in the top flight since March 2008.
The hosts dominated early possession at the AJ Bell Stadium, and after Ryan Bevington was sent to the sin bin following successive penalties at the scrum, Sale capitalised on their extra man to open the scoring with a penalty try, James Mitchell adding the extras from the tee.
They extended their advantage just after the 20-minute mark when Denny Solomona latched onto Mike Haley’s kick to cross in the corner, only for Mitchell’s conversion to hit the woodwork.
— Sale Sharks (@SaleSharksRugby) January 1, 2017
Bristol had the opportunity to immediately hit back when Jason Woodward opted for the posts after the Sharks were penalised for not rolling away at the tackle, but his effort fell short of the target.
It was a missed chance they came to rue as Sale further strengthened their lead on 32 minutes, when Mitchell scored from the tee after his side were awarded a penalty in front of the posts.
But the visitors were soon on the scoreboard thanks to the boot of Woodward after Cameron Neild gave away a penalty at the ruck.
And they narrowed the gap further when Varndell crossed the whitewash to equalise Mark Cueto’s record of 90 tries, before Woodward added the conversion to ensure a 15-10 scoreline at half-time.
Once again, it was Sale who came out of the dressing room with all guns blazing, but it was Varndell who came closest to getting the first score of the half only for the hosts to clear the danger.
— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) January 1, 2017
But they earned more breathing space when Mitchell extended their lead to eight points from the tee, after Will Hurrell was penalised for going off his feet.
Bristol saw a second player sent to the sin bin when Dan Tuohy was shown yellow for hauling down the maul, and moments later, Sale made the most of their advantage when Johnny Leota dotted down after joining the drive for the line.
But their West Country opposition were immediately back in the game through Rhodri Williams, who crossed over after a fine counter-attack from Varndell and Woodward, the latter adding the conversion.
Sale were reduced to 14 men when Rob Webber was shown a yellow card, and they were made to pay when Max Crumpton’s converted try gave the visitors the lead with just eight minutes left on the clock.
Woodward had an opportunity to make his side’s slender lead more comfortable but skewed two efforts from the tee in the dying stages of the game as Bristol held on for their second straight league victory.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) January 1, 2017