Burke's progress strikes at heart of Sale theory

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Sale were on the point of disproving the theory that lightning does not strike the same place twice, when Paul Burke pulled the rug from under their claim with a late penalty.

Five weeks ago, Sale were all over Wasps at Heywood Road, luxuriating in a 23-6 lead, only to dissipate their advantage and lose 33-31. With 59 minutes played of an outrageously uncertain, at times wanton - though thoroughly entertaining - contest on Saturday, Bristol were heading in a similar direction as Sale had been on the opening day of the season.

Burke and Robert Jones had been the mainsprings of an electric scoring burst, which brought four tries and 24 points without reply in the space of the first 16 minutes. Sale hardly had a sniff of the ball in this period as Burke claimed one try, provided the scoring pass for Dave Tiueti's second touchdown, and converted this and Mark Regan's try. The Sale captain, Jim Mallinder, had by then given the signal to hoist the storm cones.

Mallinder's influence almost proved to be the turning point. As Sale began to get their defensive act together, Mallinder felled Jones with a perfectly legal, but devastating tackle which eventually led to the pivotal Welshman being replaced. From then on, Bristol waned.

The tempest weathered, Sale fought back brilliantly. Now it was Bristol's turn to defend, and they seemed no better at the chore than Sale had been. Neil Ryan and Andy Morris posted tries within two minutes of each other, to herald the try of the match, scored by Mallinder after a thunderous 80-metre run. Significantly, Gareth Stocks missed with all three conversion attempts.

In a vivid match of eight tries, it was disappointing - especially for Sale - that the outcome rested on the performance of the kickers. Burke is no sure-shot, and his kicking out of hand is so imprecise that it will surely preclude an early revival of his international career with Ireland.

Stocks, however, is a second-rater at the kicking game and though he slotted three second-half penalties - all from easy positions - and the conversion of a penalty try awarded for persistent infringing, he crucially failed with two penalties. The cost: two league points.

Help could soon be on the way in the shape of Simon Mannix, if the New Zealander can obtain clearance from the Rugby Football Union. If not, then Sale will be kicking themselves as other games slip away for want of a reliable points-scorer.

Sale: Tries Ryan, A Morris, Mallinder; Penalty try; Conversion Stocks; Penalties Stocks 3. Bristol: Tries Tiueti 2, Burke, Regan; Conversions Burke 2; Penalties Burke 3.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, G Stocks, C Yates (S Verbickas, 76); N Ryan, M Warr; P Winstanley, S Diamond, A Smith, D Baldwin, J Fowler, D O'Grady, A Morris, C Vyvyan.

Bristol: P Hull; D Tiueti, K Maggs, M Denney, B Breeze; P Burke, R Jones (A Down, 40); A Sharp, M Regan, K Fulman, S Shaw, P Adams, I Dixon, D Corkery (C Barrow, 36), E Rollitt.

Referee: J M Pearson (Yarm).