14-man Sale earn first away win in 14 months
WATCHING matches from nearby hotels must be making satisfying viewing for Steve Diamond.
The Sale director of rugby may well be mid-way through a stadium ban, but this was a result to bring a smile to the face of everyone at the Sharks.
The last time Sale won a league match on the road was at Bristol in October 2016. So there was no shortage of fist-pumping jubilation from the visitors when their 14-men held on at Sixways. This was a match low on attacking quality, low on spectacle, but high on cards. Sale collected three yellows – one of them turning to red when Byron McGuigan added a tip-tackle on Bryce Heem to his earlier deliberate knock-on. It meant the Sharks had to play the final 14 minutes with 14 men.
Worcester – so free-flowing and dangerous in their previous three Premiership matches – were stifled by the line-speed of the Sharks’ defence. Harried and hustled, they forced things too early, squandering too much ball.
Worcester prop Nick Schonert left the field groggily late on, and director of rugby Gary Gold admitted that a number of his players were “broken” following their exertions over the past month.
“We will rest a number of players (in Europe) next week because some of them are broken. Sam Lewis has a broken nose, Francois Hougaard had a bad knock to his knee but managed to carry on, Schonert looks like he is in a bit of trouble.
“The loss is down to our poor decision-making when we had the ball. I’m bitterly disappointed that we didn’t win when we had the chance to.
“Sale were defensively very good. They were physical in the tackle and, by and large, we lost the collisions. We didn’t have the platform that we had in previous weeks.”
Warriors had scored 24 tries in their last five games, but despite the occasional flourish from their back three they were successfully contained by Sale.
Diamond will have been pleased by the muscular display on debut of centre Rohan van Rensburg, who scored the game’s opening try and played aggressively and astutely.
The South African capitalised on a rash off-load by Alafoti Faosiliva – by no means the only Worcester player to accumulate handling errors during the match – to score early on.
AJ MacGinty and Chris Pennell exchanged penalties, and when McGuigan collected his first yellow Worcester immediately took advantage when a neat kick by Pennell sat up perfectly for Josh Adams to score.
But the Warriors continued to be wasteful with the ball and commit too many errors, and another penalty by MacGinty on the stroke of half time gave Sale a 11-8 advantage at the break.
Sharks scrum-half Faf de Klerk was sin-binned early in the second half for another deliberate knockon. Worcester turned down a number of kickable penalty attempts to go for driving mauls, all of which came to nothing, but Pennell did draw things level from the kicking tee just before de Klerk’s return.
McGuigan’s second yellow enabled Pennell to kick Worcester into the lead for the first time in the match, and with a man advantage the game was there for the taking.
But Sale never looked like relenting and replacement centre Mark Jennings’ excellent finish in the corner, superbly converted by MacGinty, gave Sale a win that they on balance deserved.
Match-winner: Mark Jennings scores Sale’s second try
Rising star: Josh Adams celebrates scoring Worcester’s try