Sale Sharks moved into the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP’s top four and remain on course to secure a place in next season’s Heineken Cup after a 24-17 win at Bristol.
But they have a gruelling schedule ahead of them as they face Wasps on Tuesday evening and then host Newcastle next Sunday.
The second half saw four tries, with three from the Sharks, as Bristol suffered their third successive league defeat but they kept battling away to the end and secured a late losing bonus point.
The visitors dominated the early play but were unable to breach the Bristol line and when the home side finally got within touching distance of the Sale line they encountered similar resistance.
When Bristol were awarded a penalty after 12 minutes they opted to kick across field but Ed Barnes’ chip was too far for wing Tom Arscott and Sale were able to clear their line.
Sale were quickly back close to the Bristol line when fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked a penalty into the corner.
From the messy lineout Sale made a number of drives before Hodgson did a neat reverse pass to Mark Cueto.
But the former England wing was tackled by number eight Dan Ward-Smith and knocked on close to the line.
Bristol, with some players already looking a little sluggish at the midway point of the half. laboured the effort to clear their line.
Hodgson. who had already kicked 158 points for Sale this season, should have got the visitors on the scoreboard in the final 10 minutes of the half but the former England fly-half saw his 45-metre penalty attempt fall short.
The game remained scoreless at half time – only the fourth time since the the Premiership started in 1997.
Sale’s director of rugby Philippe Saint Andre made two changes at half-time with Luke McAlister replacing Cueto on the right wing and Brent Cockbain taking over in the second row from Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe.
But it appeared that the Bristol half-time team talk had the most impact with Shaun Perry making an impressive break, but his chip ahead for wing David Lemi was too long.
Winger Arscott raced down the other touchline but he was tackled short of the line by fly-half Barnes.
Bristol were awarded a penalty which Barnes slotted between the uprights only for Sale to reply immediately from a ruck with scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth feeding centre Elvis Seveali’i.
He set lock Sean Cox away of a 15-metre dash to the line, with Hodgson adding the conversion from out wide.
Bristol briefly regained the lead as Barnes had the ball knocked out of his hands.
Centre Neil Brew tidied up and fended off full-back Foden to touch down, with Barnes converting.
But Sale again replied quickly with Foden side-stepping his way to the line for Hodgson to add the simple conversion.
Hodgson then slotted a drop goal between the uprights before converting the touchdown of Chris Jones.
With less than 10 minutes remaining Bristol looked set to reduce the arrears but replacement number eight Andrew Blowers knocked-on when over the line.
Bristol scored a late try through Samoan wing Lemi which replacement fly-half Jason Strange converted to complete the scoring.