Sale booked their place in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP Final at Twickenham in two weeks’ time with a richly-deserved win over champions Wasps on Sunday.
England fly-half Charlie Hodgson produced a flawless kicking performance with six from six giving him a 17-point haul, while Jason Robinson scored the only try of the game – a sublime 50-metre effort in the 31st minute.
The champions for the last three seasons looked bereft of ideas and energy after last week’s titanic struggle with Gloucester, and they had no answer to Hodgson’s superb management of the game and a dogged performance from a Sale pack in which Jason White and Sebastien Chabal were outstanding.
Wasps, who suffered their first ever play-off defeat, scored 12 points from the boot of Mark Van Gisbergen, but they lacked a cutting edge in the backs and were unable to break down a resolute Sale defence.
The game marked the end of an illustrious career for Wasps and England scrum-half Matt Dawson, who came on as a second-half substitute, while Stuart Abbott will move to Harlequins next season.
The defeat draws a close on a difficult first season in charge for Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan, while Sale march into the May 27 final full of confidence after a this resounding win in front of a packed house at Edgeley Park.
The home side were never behind in the game and they exploded into the match when Jason White, fresh from being named the Premiership’s player of the season, claimed Hodgson’s kick-off and the Sale pack thundered into the heart of the Wasps defence.
Wasps encroached from the resulting ruck and Hodgson added the simplest of three points.
Wasps responded with a Van Gisbergen penalty in the fifth minute, although he was unable to add a tougher effort five minutes later.
Sale were lifted by one particularly brutal hit by number eight Chabal on his opposite number Lawrence Dallaglio which shook the former England captain to his foundations.
Hodgson added a 16th-minute penalty before Tom Voyce collected a stray kick and looked for all the world to be heading for the corner, only to pull up with the try-line beckoning.
It was to be the England winger’s last contribution as he limped off in the 18th minute with a hamstring problem.
Despite Wasps having the better of the forward exchanges, Sale retained the knack of scoring whenever they got into Wasps territory and Hodgson knocked over his third kick of the afternoon in the 20th minute to make it 9-3.
Wasps continued to dominate up front, but their backline looked ponderous and they were unable to take advantage of their forwards’ good work – one sliced drop-goal attempt from fly-half Jeremy Staunton summing up their efforts.
In stark contrast, Sale lit up the afternoon with a try out of the very top draw when Elvis Seveali’i and Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe made inroads into the Wasps defence and the ball was worked to Robinson.
The former England full-back cut a sublime line before side-stepping Van Gisbergen and outpacing Josh Lewsey for a sublime try.
Hodgson added the extras to make it 16-3 after 31 minutes.
Van Gisbergen, normally so reliable with the boot, missed a simple effort just before the break as Wasps’ miserable afternoon continued.
The New Zealand-born full-back did manage to slot a penalty just after half-time but Hodgson replied with his fifth successful kick of the afternoon to maintain the13 point lead.
Van Gisbergen’s third penalty made it 19-9 after 51 minutes but Chabal continued to keep Sale on the front foot with some powerful running and destructive defence. One shuddering tackle on Simon Shaw will live long in the memory.
Wasps brought on England scrum-half Dawson, in what turned out to be his last game of competitive rugby, in the 54th minute in an attempt to inject some energy into their attacking play.
Van Gisbergen narrowed the deficit to seven points with a 65th-minute penalty but Sale refused to buckle, with Hodgson kicking intelligently from hand and Jason White making some telling inroads with the ball in hand.
But Wasps showed the fighting spirit that has made them champions for the last three spirit and somehow stayed in the game by shear bloody-mindedness.
Hodgson’s sixth kick of the afternoon in the 78th minute added the gloss to the scoreline to provide the home side with the victory they deserved.