Sale Sharks maintained their presence in the battle for an Aviva Premiership Rugby top four spot with a gritty victory over Gloucester Rugby.
The Sharks had lost their last two matches in the league, but tries from Johnny Leota and Josh Beaumont, coupled with a fine display from Danny Cipriani, ensured they pulled clear on an afternoon where the battle of the breakdown took over.
James Hook struck two first-half penalties for the visitors, but they were left frustrated by the stoicism on show by the Sale defence.
The result leaves Steve Diamond’s men just eight points adrift of Leicester Tigers in fourth, while Gloucester stay ninth.
The Cherry and Whites were stunned by a late comeback against Northampton Saints in their last Premiership fixture, and they were keen to get onto the front foot early at the AJ Bell Stadium, Hook slotting a penalty after missing a previous attempt.
On a rainy afternoon in Salford, it was always likely the forwards shootout would prove crucial, and the Sharks pack drew first blood as they provided the platform for the game’s opening try.
An inexorable driving maul took the hosts to within ten metres of their opponents’ line, and when the ball was recycled, Leota did marvellously to burrow through the tackles and touch down at the base of the post, the TMO confirming the score.
Cipriani was on target with the simplest of conversions, although his opposite number reduced the arrears to a single point with a well-struck effort shortly after the half-hour mark.
Diamond’s side almost went over again just before the break, a clever lineout move and some tidy handling allowing Mark Cueto to crash up to within a few metres on his 300th appearance for the club.
The ball did go loose at the key moment, but another powerful drive from the Sale forwards resulted in a scrum penalty and a simple three points for Cipriani, the Sale No.10 obliging with the half’s final act.
The home side started the second half with more purpose than they had begun the game, and after a couple of probing forays into Gloucester territory, Cipriani was again on hand to stretch his side’s lead from the tee, a lengthy kick creeping over the crossbar in the face of a strong wind.
Tom Arscott saw an effort from even further out drift short, but from the resulting clearance kick he was able to spark an impressive counter, stepping well to dart through a gap in the Cherry and Whites’ defence, only for the hosts to infringe at the breakdown.
Cipriani was on target with another three point effort, before Arscott played his part in a decisive moment for the hosts
The Sale winger produced another run in broken field to place the visitors firmly on the back foot, before Cipriani delivered a deliciously deft pass for Beaumont, the No.8 skipping through a hole to run in the score – the Sharks fly-half added the extras.
Nathan Hines and Cipriani were sent to the sin bin as the hosts sought to repel the incessant Gloucester pressure, but Sale’s ferocity in the tackle was at the heart of their success, and they kept the visitors out to record an impressive triumph.
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