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Sale Sharks 34 Cardiff Blues 33
1:45pm Tuesday 16th October 2012 in Sport
WHAT a difference half an hour makes.
With 50 minutes gone, Sale Sharks were 27-17 down and staring down the barrel.
Cue the entry of Danny Cipriani from the replacements bench. Thirty minutes later, inspired by the fly half’s measured passing and visionary kicking, an re-energised Sale Sharks had gained their first victory of the season.
Sharks allowed the Welsh side into the game with too much ease after a bright start. Halfpenny and Macleod traded early penalties but then watched Blues’ winger Cuthbert running in for tries after 15 and 18 minutes.
Visiting fullback Halfpenny, who had a 100 per cent kicking record, converted both. Macleod reduced the arrears with penalties after 25 and 35 minutes and Cuthbert was denied a third score through the combined efforts of Miller and Jennings near the corner flag.
The Blues winger completed his hat trick four minutes before half time. Hooker Breeze caught the ball and made a break through the centre before offloading to the scorer. Inevitably, Halfpenny converted.
The final score of the half was Macleod's fourth penalty following a high tackle. 12-24 didn't look promising for the home ranks, but it was probably a fair reflection of the pattern of the game.
Two minutes after the re-start, Sharks were offside, and Halfpenny landed a massive penalty from fully 50 metres out to make the score 12-27.
Willis and Cipriani entered the fray together five minutes later to form an alternative half back partnership and the tide began to turn. An exquisite Cipriani pass to Addison was returned with interest, allowing the creator to finish the move with a try on 55 minutes.
Halfpenny could never be left out of the equation and when Powell was penalised after 57 minutes, the Blues' fullback slotted over a superb penalty from three metres inside his own half to make it 17-30.
Sharks weathered the storm and scored their second try after 63 minutes. Willis took a quick tap penalty, Cipriani and Leota carried on the move to release Lymm youngster Jennings, who cut inside to behind the posts in classic style on his debut. Miller converted and there were only six points between the sides.
Sharks mounted the pressure on the visiting line and Blues' Lewis Jones was shown the game's only yellow card for a technical offence. From the resultant scrum, Powell broke from the back, but it was Buckley who dived over for try three. Miller's conversion gave the Sharks a one-point lead.
With four minutes to go, Miller held his nerve and sent over a long penalty. Amidst frayed nerves and a measure of disbelief, Halfpenny's fourth penalty of the match narrowed the gap to a single point but the final stages saw the Blues penned in their own 22 and unable to do anything else but try to run the ball out.
Sharks held firm and victory, at the seventh attempt, was greeted with unbridled joy.
What a turnaround – what a game. You have to wonder if half an hour has turned the season round for the club. Time will tell.
Sharks: Miller; Jennings, Addison, Tuitupou (Leota 59), Cueto; Macleod (Cipriani 50), Fowles (Willis 50); Lewis-Roberts, Taylor, Buckley, Gray, McKenzie (Gaskell 59), Vernon, Seymour (capt.), Powell. Replacements not used: Ward, Harrison, Cobilas, Myall.