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Sale take the spoils in classic encounter

11 Feb 2006
Sale take the spoils in classic encounter

But a wonderful afternoon’s rugby was nearly spoiled as England World Cup hero Jason Robinson was involved in an injury scare as he slumped to the ground in the second half. However the full-back walked groggily off the pitch before later watching from the touchline as his side took the honours.

It was a chance for Worcester to gain revenge over the Premiership leaders for defeat in Stockport last November but Sale were not about to lose for the first time since they suffered a shock league reverse at Bristol’s Memorial Stadium nearly three months ago.

It was not long before Worcester were on the back foot as Sale stormed into a handsome early lead.

French fly-half Valentin Courrent, an import from Brive and deputising for otherwise engaged Charlie Hodgson, sparkled with both the boot and in open play.

In a breathless opening quarter, Courrent booted a penalty and converted two tries, one which he scored himself after a neat chip through the home defence into the goal area.

The second came from a marvellous move where big prop Lionel Faure showed a deft turn of speed on halfway to race down the midfield before feeding Courrent who put away lock Dean Schofield under the posts.

It could have been a rout if Worcester had not got a grip of themselves and fought back into the match. Courrent’s opposite number, Australian Shane Drahm, inspired the fightback from a 17-3 deficit.

The stand-off broke after a scrum on the visiting 22 and gave wing Aisea Havili the scoring pass as he burst through the Sharks defence.

Another Courrent penalty widened the gap to 10 points but on the half hour Drahm grabbed a try as the pack, and in particular prop Tevita Taumoepeau and number eight Drew Hickey, put immense pressure on the Sale eight on their own line.

Former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall threw the pass out to Drahm who cut back, was tackled but just stretched enough to place the ball down.

With the conversion added, Worcester were back in touch at 20-17.

It lasted barely 20 seconds as directly from the restart the Warriors’ back line was at sixes and sevens.

The ball ran loose and England hooker Andy Titterrell latched onto it and ran home from 20 yards. Another Courrent conversion meant it was back up to a 10-point advantage.

But Sale were punished for two mistakes late in the half that saw Drahm land an easy 15-metre penalty from near the posts and then a booming 40-metre shot.

The Sharks grabbed their fourth try – and a bonus point – within minutes of the start of the second half when scrum-half Sililo Martens touched down after good work by Sebastien Chabal on the left hand side only a few yards from the Worcester line.

Sale must have thought they had finally clinched it when left wing Steve Hanley tore down the right and sent fellow flyer Oriol Ripol in at the corner to make it 41-23 with under half an hour left.

But the Warriors would not lay down and on the hour they battered the Sale line again and it yielded more points as the ball was whizzed across the back division for centre Richard Todd to float a long pass into the arms of full-back Nicolas Le Roux who dashed into the corner.

The conversion from the touchline by Drahm meant Worcester were only a converted try and penalty adrift.

However strengthened their lead over second-placed Wasps when Steve Hanley, playing his first match after a broken leg and then a knee injury, tore down the left to score with Courrent, who had put him away, converting.

Worcester mounted a last bid to at least get a fourth try and a bonus point as they became camped in the Sale 22 for the final 10 minutes but some magnificent defence by the league leaders kept them at bay.

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