Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson admitted he was not surprised by the strength of Worcester’s challenge after seeing his play-off contenders edge a Sixways thriller.

The teams were separated by nine places and 31 points before kick-off but Sale trailed until midway through the final quarter before claiming a 35-32 victory.

The bonus-point win keeps them in third place with five regular-season games left.

“You underestimate Worcester at your peril,” said Sanderson, whose side return to action when they host Leicester Tigers on May 7. “They stuck at it and really wanted it.

“It kept us on it as well, and meant we had to go and win the game again with a minute or so to go. I didn’t expect anything less than what we faced.”

Worcester, seven points adrift at the Premiership basement before kick-off, were undone by Sale’s powerful finish that produced tries for wing Arron Reed, prop Coenie Oosthuizen and number eight Dan du Preez.

It meant the Sharks secured a bonus point following earlier touchdowns from centre Connor Doherty and wing Byron McGuigan, while fly-half AJ MacGinty kicked four conversions and Kieran Wilkinson one.

Sanderson added: “You can’t coach that kind of togetherness and tightness they’ve got that gets you through the real tough times, like being down to 14 men and four points down at half-time.

“We’ve got to up our average performance level but on our day with that kind of commitment, knowing what we can produce, I believe we can go after anyone – and you have got to do that three or four weeks on the trot at the back end of the season.

“Over the last 14 weeks or so we have improved our set-piece, which has always been excellent, and it is now a weapon.

“Our efficiency in attack at times has been a lot better, and our ability to out-last and out-work teams. We’ve scored in the last 10 minutes in each of the last five games.

“We are training harder and it is translating on to the field. We are lasting longer.”