Sale ground out the victory Philippe Saint-Andre had demanded to kick-start their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP campaign after last weekend’s abject opening-day surrender at Newcastle.
So angry was the Sharks director of rugby with the 33-12 defeat at Kingston Park that he forced his players to sit through a tape of the game on Monday morning.
The video nasty served as a grim wake-up call and allowed Saint-Andre’s men to iron out their flaws ahead of the visit of Bristol to Edgeley Park.
This performance could hardly be described as fluid – Sale are currently missing 11 players due to World Cup duty – but it was full of grit and determination and that proved enough to seal the points on a drizzly afternoon in Stockport.
Bristol, whose own campaign has begun in such disappointing fashion after last season’s impressive third-placed finish, were pitiful in attack and barely engineered a single noteworthy opening.
Sale created several but could register only one try – a first-half touchdown from Ben Foden – to help establish a slender 8-6 interval advantage.
Fly-half Charlie Hodgson, playing only his second competitive game for Sale since injuring his right knee playing for England against South Africa last November, also hinted at a return to form with three penalties and two classic second-half drop-goals.
Hodgson, overlooked by England coach Brian Ashton and comprehensively outplayed by rival number 10 Toby Flood at Newcastle last week, also kept Bristol at bay with an astute display of tactical kicking.
A scrappy opening saw both Bristol fly-half David Hill and Sharks centre Lee Thomas miss long-range penalties before Hill claimed his first three-pointer with a quarter of an hour gone.
Two minutes later, Hodgson assumed kicking duties.
His 17th-minute penalty drew Sale level and a series of clever probing kicks from the Yorkshireman put the visitors’ backline under severe pressure as the half wore on.
Some delightful handling between influential scrum-half Sillio Martens and Foden sent Steve Hanley racing clear down the left flank, but his progress was halted just short of the line.
A pattern was beginning to emerge, however, and it came as no surprise to anyone when Hodgson’s delicate pass sent Foden scampering over in the right corner in the 24th minute.
Saint-Andre was off his seat in the main stand and celebrated with a punch of the air.
Hodgson failed to convert and then missed a penalty before Hill claimed another three-pointer to cut the gap to two points.
Thomas resumed kicking duties from Hodgson when Sale were awarded a penalty shortly before the break but he again erred to leave the match finely poised at the break.
Hanley thought he had Sale’s second try almost immediately after the break but he was tackled into touch by Luke Arscott and Bristol breathed again.
The respite did not last long, though, as Hodgson produced a classic drop-goal from 35 metres to extend his side’s advantage.
Two more Hodgson penalties put Sale home and dry before he added a second drop-goal from distance in the last minute to help his side go some way towards erasing the pain of their Newcastle debacle.