All Blacks star Luke McAlister enjoyed a victorious GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP debut as Sale dismissed rock-bottom Worcester at Sixways.
The New Zealand centre never looked back after helping to create Sharks’ opening try for Scotland international Rory Lamont inside three minutes. And that score was the cue for Sale to dominate, claiming a comfortable bonus point triumph that saw them jump two places into fifth.
They even subdued a brief second-half Worcester revival, threatened by skipper Pat Sanderson’s try double after Sale had two players sin-binned in two minutes.
England prop Andrew Sheridan departed for late-tackling Warriors wing Thinus Delport, then referee Tony Spreadbury yellow-carded Sharks hooker Sebastien Bruno and Worcester flanker Tom Wood following a brawl.
Sale though, had too much in the tank, prevailing through tries by Lamont, his fellow wing Mark Cueto, full-back Ben Foden and lock Dean Schofield, while McAlister booted three penalties and Charlie Hodgson slotted one penalty and a conversion.
McAlister, who has agreed a substantial six-figure deal with Sharks, will shortly be joined in the Premiership by World Cup colleagues Aaron Mauger (Leicester), Carl Hayman (Newcastle) and Chris Jack (Saracens). But that illustrious trio will do well to match McAlister’s impact on debut as he settled seamlessly into English domestic duties.
All the problems were Worcester’s on a freezing night when they did little to calm growing concerns about their Premiership survival prospects.
They have lost six and drawn one in the league this season, hardly the start millionaire chairman Cecil Duckworth would have imagined following his appointment of Wales’ 2005 Grand Slam coach Mike Ruddock as rugby director six months ago.
It was Worcester’s heaviest home Premiership debut since Bristol battered them 41-11 in September last year, and the current campaign already looks like being another long, grim battle to avoid relegation. They remain rooted to the Premiership basement, one point behind Leeds Carnegie, who host Leicester tomorrow.
McAlister’s bow provided the headline act in a Sharks side that also contained England World Cup squad members Sheridan and Cueto, while Hodgson returned after being rested for last Saturday’s European Challenge Cup victory over Padova.
Centre Dale Rasmussen made his Worcester comeback following an injury lay-off, and there was a place on the bench for New Zealand import Greg Rawlinson.
Worcester, despite poor Premiership form, went into battle following three successive wins in the EDF Energy and European Challenge cup competitions, but Sale started as firm favourites. And they justified that tag by posting 15 unanswered points during an opening quarter that left Warriors floundering.
McAlister had served immediate notice of his threat by sending a steepling up and under deep into Worcester territory, but that was merely the prelude to a delightful offload that sent Thomas exploding through weak tackling and set up Lamont’s touchdown.
Hodgson extended the lead with a penalty, before his crosskick was gathered by Cueto, who squeezed over in the corner under pressure from two defenders.
Although Shane Drahm opened Worcester’s account with a 25th-minute penalty, Sale dominated the half through superior physicality generated by their back-row trio of Jason White, Sebastien Chabal and Nathan Bonner-Evans.
Sheridan also rampaged regularly in the loose, and despite Warriors number eight Netani Talei launching a strong run just before the break, Sale trooped off 12 points clear.
Chabal did not reappear for the second period – he was replaced by David Tait – while Ruddock introduced Rawlinson for his Warriors debut on 53 minutes. Sale though, quickly made the game safe, capitalising on slick lineout work by White and launching a sweeping move that ended with Foden looping around Worcester’s final defender to score.
Despite Sanderson’s score when Sale were temporarily down to six forwards, McAlister’s penalty treble and Schofield’s injury time effort guaranteed a first league away win for the Sharks this term.