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Sharks - Sale Sharks 16 Bath 9
SALE Sharks’ dynamic young fullback Rob Miller won this crucial game eight minutes from the end when he outpaced Bath fullback Nick Abendanon to score the game’s only try.
Chasing his own kick ahead, the Sharks’ number fifteen notched his tenth try of the season, which Nick Macleod converted to put the home side seven points clear. The win put the Sharks into sixth place over Friday night, and to many people’s surprise outside the North East, there they remained when Newcastle Falcons won 29-20 at Gloucester on Saturday.
The precious sixth spot, which ensures qualification for the Heineken Cup next year, rests between Sharks and the Cherries. Ironically, the sides meet next Saturday down at Kingsholm. The script couldn’t have been better written.
The game at Edgeley Park – the last Friday fixture in the club’s nine-year stay at the Stockport venue – was hard fought, with penalties from Macleod and Barkley the only scores until Miller’s magic moment. In a tense atmosphere before a television audience, the Sharks’ forwards won the vital battle, even though they lost Sheridan to a yellow card following a lineout offence after 20 minutes. The return of Andrei Ostrikov make a significant difference, and hooker Joe Ward turned in several bludgeoning bursts.
Sharks lost Dwayne Peel through a leg injury with only 11 minutes gone, but his replacement Cillian Willis ensured a lively pace and some varied box kicks to relieve the pressure. Playing behind the influential number 8 Andy Powell, Willis sparkled and ensured a supply of quick ball to the backs.
The mishandling malaise still remains with the ambitious Sharks, but the crowd warmed to their sterling efforts to carve an opening.
Bath seemed to be going for the record of injury stoppages, but between them Biggs and ex-Shark Fearns produced incisive moments. Barkley put Bath ahead with a penalty after 21 minutes after Sheridan’s yellow card, but Macleod replied with two for a 6-3 half time lead.
Rain started to fall at half time, which featured some thrilling tag rugby from Altrincham Kersal’s Under 7 and Under 8 players against Caldy. When the taller players returned to the excellent pitch, the diet of penalties continued. Macleod punished offside after 53 minutes for a 9-3 scoreline, but Barkley levelled with two strikes of his own within the following ten minutes.
The forward heroes won the day for the Sharks, taking the game to Bath with a steady series of drives. Miller’s decisive break was followed by a final burst from the visitors, who crucially knocked on during the second minute after the timer clock had stopped at zero, allowing relief and joy to fill the ground with equal measure.
Messenger Man of the Match – Andy Powell. All force and flowing hair at Number 8.
Sale Sharks – Miller; Brady, Leota, Tuitupou (Addison 61), Cueto; Macleod, Peel (Willis 11); Sheridan, Ward, Buckley (Thomas 64), Ostrikov, Myall, Vernon (Easter 64), Seymour, Powell. Replacements not used: Jones, Cobilas, Holmes, Amesbury.