UNDERDOGS Sale Sharks stunned the Guinness Premiership champions with this deserved victory at rainswept Edgeley Park on Friday. With ball handling a difficult art in the greasy conditions, it was no surprise that the game was settled on penalties – five to Lee Thomas, four to Jeremy Staunton.
Referee David Rose had to work hard to maintain control during the first twenty minutes as no quarter was asked nor given. With only six minutes gone, a Tigers penalty was reversed after scrum half Youngs ripped off Gaskell’s scrum cap. Soon after, debutant Sisa Koyamaibole made his only mistake of the match, conceding ten yards and also having the penalty reversed.
Before the game, the popular view was that the Tigers’ pack would hold sway, but it proved not to be. The Sharks’ front row of Roberts, Jones and Forster put in a mighty performance which inspired those behind them. Leicester used the rolling maul to good effect, but the Sharks’ defensive work was top-class. Neil Briggs and skipper Dean Schofield were battering rams in an absorbingly physical encounter, whilst James Gaskell stood up to the mark in his first Premiership start. Tigers’ lock Louis Deacon was shown the game’s only yellow card on 28 minutes for a technical offence on the ground. The half time score was 9-6, with Thomas slotting over the longer efforts.
The second half was only two minutes old when Staunton drew the scores level, but another man making his first appearance for the club, World Cup winner Ben Cohen, inspired a frenzied passage of play when he chased his own kick and flattened Tigers’ wing Smith. The visiting defence was given no peace by a Sharks’ team which competed for everything. Thomas scored two second half penalties, but the game was never out of reach after Staunton pulled one back. Mahonri Schwalger produced a forward charge but lost possession of the ball at the last moment. Staunton sent a difficult penalty attempt wide with six minutes left, and the game ended with a Tigers’ bombardment on the home line. The timer clock had passed zero for almost three minutes, but Schofield’s men wouldn’t give in, defending with valour. They were finally awarded a relieving penalty for obstruction: cue ecstatic scenes among the home ranks and most of the 8751 crowd.
The focus transfers to the North East when the Sharks travel to Newcastle on Sunday (3.00 p.m.). The Falcons opened up with a 9-9 draw at Headingley last Sunday against promoted Leeds Carnegie. If the Sharks can produce the passion and measured aggression that they showed last Friday, they can make it two wins in two visits to Kingston Park., but they’d be well advised to recall the club’s poor record at the ground until last year. Another tight game is on the cards, and the wind invariably blows!
Messenger Man of the Match: Eifion Roberts