Hill faces a mountain

Gloucester 12 Sale 16
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The Independent Online
Only 20 league games to go, and the summer sun is still shining - but already we have had what looks suspiciously like a relegation clash. Of course, it is too early to say but it is hard to see these two dogged, dull sides being anywhere but near the bottom in seven months time.

A miserable converted try by a forward finally tipped the balance towards Sale but the Cheshire side played with a lack of confidence matched only by that of Gloucester.

It was a litany of errors and aimless running into solid walls of defence. The measure of disappointment was the sight of the Gloucester crowd swarming out of the ground with the result still in doubt. It might be enough to make Rupert Murdoch wonder if his millions are well spent.

The game took an hour to stir from its coma. After an exchange of penalties with the lead changing hands, Sale scored the first and only try when their hooker Paul Diamond was driven over. The replacement winger Adam Griffin converted to add to his three penalties.

With Dewi Morris injecting a hint of urgency from scrum-half, the Cheshire side got a bit of a grip on themselves and occasionally the ball.

Despite winning, Sale's problems were many. There was a lack of leadership and direction at the back for much of the game and a lack of grit up front. The absence of a kicker was emphasised by the fact that Griffin was a replacement.

For much of the game, Gloucester looked the better bet, making up in vigour what they lacked in vision. Mark Mapletoft was often the pivot of the West Country effort. Mapletoft, who was absent last season recovering from knee surgery, often turned the opposite back line with neat chips or switched direction to wrong-foot Sale. He also kicked the four penalties that kept Gloucester in with a chance. He did, though, completely fluff a last-ditch attempt at a drop goal.

It is all proving rather difficult for Gloucester's director of rugby, Richard Hill, after last week's thrashing by Harlequins. He has abandoned his original policy of targeting "must win" games - though the suspicion remains that Sale would have been one of them - with a clear implication that trouble is looming.

Hill dismayed some local doubters over the summer by not bringing big names to Kingsholm. But the plus-side of his reliance on promising local youth did emerge yesterday when some home pride at least kept Gloucester in the match.

It will not be enough though. Hill and Gloucester need some big players, mentally if not physically.

Gloucester: C Catling; E Anderson, A Saverimutto, M Roberts, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims, P Glanville, S Devereux, A Stanley (S Edwards, 82 min).

Sale: J Mallinder; D Rees, J Devereux, M Birt (A Griffin, 9 min), T Beim; J Baxendell, D Morris; P Smith, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D O'Grady, C Vyvyan, A Morris.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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