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Gloucester 19 Sale Sharks 24
12:06pm Tuesday 24th April 2012 in Sport
GET the cans chilling in the fridge – Sharks are almost in the Heineken Cup.
In their toughest away assignment this season, the Sharks produced a controlled second half display to win at a ground where they’d last tasted success in 2000.
Teams with possibly greater individual players – Robinson, Chabal, McAlister – have all visited the Kingsholm fortress and withered, sometimes spectacularly.
The present breed have developed a resolve which will undoubtedly see them surmount hurdles in the future – but they won’t come much harder than this.
Traditionally, the Shed – covered terracing alongside the pitch opposite the main stand – is populated by home diehards who revel in raucously uttering ‘donkey sounds’ when a visiting player makes a handling error. They also advise the referee on points of law. Some people call it an iconic venue.
The game started in bright sunshine and a simmering atmosphere, following the resignation of Gloucester’s head coach Bryan Redpath earlier in the week. Many of the home fans had conspiracy on their minds, fuelled by local media phraseology topped by this sample: “….enduring claims that Redpath is already nailed on for the director role at Sale have formed an immovable storm.”
Furthermore, the Gloucester owner had used social media, tweeting a threat of legal action against Sale Sharks if he were to discover anything untoward.
Understandably, it took just four minutes for an incident to ignite against this background. Simpson-Daniel was bundled into touch and a mass brawl erupted adjacent to the braying masses. Following considered deliberation by all three match officials, Qera and Miller spent 10 minutes in the sinbin. After the fight, a great game of rugby broke out.
Cueto and Sharples had to retire, bloodied, two minutes later after England past had seemingly stopped England present with his nose. Both returned to make their mark on the match. The scoreboard started to activate immediately after the wingers had departed, with Burns slotting over a penalty when Sheridan had been adjudged not to have rolled away. The prolific Macleod had a chance to equalise on 10 minutes, but his kick drifted wide in the gusty wind. He made amends four minutes later to equalise. Burns also had difficulties, missing a 16th minute penalty.
Sharks absorbed the inevitable pressure in the emotive atmosphere, and took a 23rd minute lead. Addison produced an incisive run down the left, feeding fullback Miller who veered at great pace towards the home try line. Despite the presence of two defenders, the young Cumbrian’s momentum took him over the whitewash. Macleod converted to take Sharks 10-3 ahead.
Disaster struck at the re-start. Props Sheridan and Buckley lifted Myall to catch the kick, but the ball shot over him and Sharples whipped in to score. Burns equalised with his conversion. The going got tough, with heavy April showers adding to the players’ difficulties, and Gloucester edged ahead for a 16-10 half time lead, thanks to two more Burns penalties for offences at the ruck. On the resumption, Gloucester continued to press. Although the Sharks defended well, they could do nothing about Burns’s fourth penalty of the afternoon on 48 minutes, after an error by Ostrikov.
The Sharks replied immediately. Cueto collected a high ball and forged a path into centre field, passing to the flying Miller who again displayed outstanding pace to elude the home cover and score his twelfth try of the season. For the rest of the game, the Sharks played excellent rugby, maintaining a high field position and picking up scores when opportunities arose. Macleod added penalties on 59 and 71 minutes, and should have been granted another in between when the ball fell off the tee.
He re-aligned it, kicked it between the posts but was denied the score. Mercifully, it didn’t count in the end, because, with three minutes left, the Sharks’ fly half dropped a goal to take the visitors five points clear. It completed a double over the ‘Cherry and Whites’.
A fifth successive defeat had made the Shed go quiet, with the noise coming from the passionate travelling fans waving their masses of blue flags, celebrating not only an historic victory, but the retention of sixth place in the Aviva Premiership. Sharks are knocking on the door of European Rugby’s premier competition.
Messenger Man of the Match: could have been any of many, but the honour has to go to Rob Miller, for his vital contributions in the 70 minutes he was on the pitch.
Sharks: Miller; Brady, Addison, Tuitupou (capt.), Cueto (Amesbury 6-18); Macleod, Willis; Sheridan (Imiolek 77), Ward, Buckley (Thomas 59), Ostrikov, Myall, Easter, Seymour, Powell. Unused replacements: Jones, Holmes, Taylor, Mathie, Higgins.