Jason Robinson celebrated his 500th game of professional rugby with the match-winning drop goal as Sale came from behind to snatch a narrow victory over Gloucester at a sodden Edgeley Park – and secure their place in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP end of season semi finals.
The former England captain nailed a 77th-minute kick to earn the leaders a four-point haul from what was a scrappy encounter – but Gloucester will be left ruing a missed penalty from Ludovic Mercier deep into injury time which would have earned the visitors a draw.
Gloucester looked to have the game in the bag when Ryan Lamb slotted over his fifth straight penalty to put his side 15-3 ahead with 30 minutes left.
But the Sharks showed tenacity to fight back and, thanks to kicks by Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth, they pulled level with 10 minutes remaining.
And it was left to Robinson to settle the forward-orientated battle with his last-gasp coup de grace from 20 metres out.
Sale had to cope without talismanic number eight Sebastien Chabal, ruled out just before kick-off with a stomach upset.
And with England prop Andrew Sheridan having already been sidelined for the rest of the season with a neck injury, the hosts were shorn of two of their powerhouses in the pack.
It took them 10 minutes to get into their stride as Gloucester went in front early on through a Lamb penalty.
The Sharks, no doubt disappointed by their sloppy opening, soon clicked into gear and found themselves encamped on the visitors’ line.
The closest they came to scoring the game’s first try was when Jason White drove over near the posts but television replays showed he was held up.
Despite seeing their opponents reduced to 14 men after Gary Powell was sin-binned for interference in a rolling maul, Sale struggled to take advantage.
They only managed a Hodgson penalty in that 10-minute spell as their backs failed to function despite monopolising possession.
After Hodgson had missed his second penalty attempt from out wide, Lamb took centre stage.
He restored Gloucester’s lead with a simple kick of his own and the England Under-21 international then landed a penalty from a considerably longer distance, despite being hampered by a swirling wind, to put his side 9-3 ahead in the 38th minute.
And his fourth soon followed in first-half injury time as Sale were guilty of failing to secure ball in the tackle.
Lamb and Hodgson exchanged kicks at the beginning of the second half and boosted by a trio of substitutions in their forwards, Sale slowly began to regain their composure.
Hodgson’s third penalty reduced the deficit to six and a superb long-range effort on the hour brought the Sharks within three points.
Lamb’s kicking duties were brought to an end when he was replaced by Mercier with 18 minutes remaining.
When Mike Tindall became the second visitor to be shown a yellow card – for slowing the ball down in a ruck – Hodgson had the chance to bring the scores level but he booted the resulting penalty wide.
With Hodgson temporarily hurt, Wigglesworth took over kicking responsibilities and slotted over a three-pointer from underneath the posts after Gloucester had once again infringed.
Sale had all the momentum and with three minutes left on the clock, Robinson’s well-struck drop goal from straight in front of the posts put them in the lead for the first time in the match.
In a breathtaking finish to the game, Mercier had the opportunity to salvage a draw for his side with a penalty deep into injury time.
But the Frenchman struck the ball woefully as it slithered wide of the posts and Sale were left to celebrate.