Worcester Warriors 24

Sale Sharks 18

SHARKS let their customary away win at Worcester’s ground slip from their grasp as they tasted defeat at Sixways on Saturday.

Despite dominating the second half, finishing the game almost camped on the home line for 20 minutes, their decision to kick penalties for the corners or re-set scrums in the quest for winning tries eventually left them six points short.

After lengthy spells of forward pressure had failed to see a lead materialise, Lee Thomas kicked a drop goal at the start of the game’s final minute to ensure a ‘losing bonus’ point – or so everybody thought. Incredibly, the Sharks infringed from the re-start and home fly half Walker had a penalty chance to snatch that solace away from the visitors, but he missed.

There were two major talking points after the game: did the regularity of home infringements in the final quarter not merit a yellow card, and why did referee Debney deny Oriol Ripol a 77th minute try, only to award the Sharks a penalty on the other side of the pitch?

Sharks turned in a much-improved performance, passing the ball more freely and using the width of the pitch. Some of their handing remains clumsy, they conceded two ‘soft’ tries, and, again, conceded crucial points at the start of the second half. After a Walker drop goal in the second minute, Bell allowed Garvey to slip through his grasp for the game’s first try. Thomas reduced the arrears with a penalty before Bell atoned with the Sharks’ first try on 17 minutes, the result of imaginative passing by Macleod and Gaskell. Two Walker penalties stretched the Warriors into a 16-8 half time lead, but the killer blow proved to be the try two minutes after the break from the speedy Benjamin on the Warriors’ left wing.

Sharks chipped away at the thirteen-point deficit, with Mathew Tait crossing for a fine try after 66 minutes, converted by Wigglesworth. Within three minutes, Walker added a penalty and the score remained unchanged until Thomas’s late drop goal, despite the best efforts of a sturdy Sharks pack, ably served by props Sheridan and Roberts.

High fliers London Irish are Friday’s visitors at Edgeley Park (7.45 p.m.) in the Sharks’ final Guinness Premiership game before the Heineken Cup campaign starts at Toulouse a week later. Toby Booth’s team have won three out of their four games, the latest being an attritional 28-16 triumph against London Wasps last Sunday. The Exiles are traditionally strong at the lineout, and possess a leading danger man in winger Sailosi Tagicakibau, who has scored five tries in his last three games. His battle with Mark Cueto will be one of the features of Friday’s encounter. Tickets: 08444 994 994.