Charlie Hodgson provided the inspiration as Sale reaffirmed their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title credentials and ensured more Edgeley Park woe for leaders Gloucester.
The fly-half was utilised by England as a replacement in last week’s 15-9 defeat against Scotland in the Six Nations but sent back to his club after Danny Cipriani rejoined Brian Ashton’s squad.
Hodgson was the stand-out player for the Sharks, kicking four penalties from five attempts, landing a delightful drop-goal and converting a try he orchestrated for Ben Foden in the 54th minute.
While Hodgson remains behind Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson in the England pecking order, a personal points haul of 17 said everything about his value to Sale on a night when there was precious little freeflowing rugby on display.
A dreadful playing surface – the pitch resembled a cabbage patch – did not help matters but Sale fully deserved their victory against a Gloucester side decimated by injury and Six Nations call-ups.
This success ended a run of two straight defeats for Sale and keeps them handily placed in fourth spot.
Dean Ryan’s men have now lost their last five encounters in Stockport but they at least claimed a bonus point to extend their lead at the Premiership summit.
The visitors opened the scoring with a penalty from Willie Walker in the seventh minute but Hodgson quickly converted two of his own to edge Sale ahead and they never looked back.
The Cherry and Whites threatened only sporadically – Anthony Allen narrowly failed to collect his own chip and chase in the 17th minute – but after Hodgson missed another penalty moments later, the pendulum swung back in Sale’s favour.
The Yorkshireman’s educated boot came to the fore again in the 24th minute when he claimed his third penalty from four attempts before Walker failed twice from distance within the space of three minutes.
While Sale were largely dominant in the opening periods, they were kept at bay by some obstinate defending from the visitors.
A minute before the interval, Chris Jones looked to have the easiest of tasks in ushering number eight Sebastien Chabal over the line in the left corner, but the pass was forward and the opportunity lost.
Another Walker penalty on the stroke of half-time kept Gloucester in contention at 9-6 but the fare served up during the opening 40 minutes was bitterly disappointing.
That changed after the break; largely due to Hodgson, who claimed his fourth penalty in the 43rd minute and then punished the visitors shortly after with a 30-metre drop-goal after second-row Dan Tuohy was sent to the sin-bin for a late challenge.
Hodgson was now into his stride and in the 54th minute an excellent long pass out to the right found Foden advancing forward at pace.
The full-back, returning to action after a shoulder injury, needed no second invitation to continue his burst and he showed the pace to dart through a gap in the Gloucester rearguard and cross the line.
It was just reward for an outstanding individual performance and Hodgson superbly added the extras from the near the touchline.
That put Sale 22-6 ahead but Walker claimed his third penalty before adding the extras to a late penalty try which earned Gloucester a bonus point.