Mannix torments tired Gloucester

Sale 52 Gloucester 12
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Rugby players are a good deal more positive than politicians about getting into Europe, and that added to the underlying tension at Heywood Road. But an even greater factor was the number of extra fixtures that now come thick and fast at this stage of the season. If Sale were still fast enough to score eight tries, Gloucester seemed pretty thick-headed after the past week.

These two clubs have become the most dogged competitors in the First Division - not particularly glamorous or crowd-pleasing, but born survivors. Only a week before, Gloucester had felt the need to beat Saracens before they could count themselves safe from relegation. But then an even more notable victory over Leicester on Tuesday evening had suddenly promoted them to sixth and raised faint hopes of continental rugby.

Sale's week had been more frustrating. After beating West Hartlepool at the weekend to reach the qualifying top four, they had been relegated to fifth on Wednesday by Harlequins' win over Saracens. A cruel twist, this, since Sale had bettered the Quins three times this season. All told, the sides needed no extra motivation.

In the circumstances no one was going to offer any hostages to fortune, and though Sale seemed to have a permanent lease on Gloucester's end of the field the attacks followed a set pattern.The ball would be sent out in a series of short passes to a midfield appointment with the defence. Then second and third phase would follow until someone fumbled or went off-side and the whole process would be repeated.

But the Gloucester tackling, perhaps weakened by two other crucial matches, could not survive the pressure indefinitely. After a quarter of an hour, from a base in front of the Gloucester posts, Sale passed the ball right to Adrian Hadley. Cautiously, Hadley relayed the ball, and a lurking flanker, David Erskine, scored the try with two men in reserve outside him.

Simon Mannix, Sale's New Zealand stand-off, who had been prompting nearly all their attacks with darting runs and teasing kicks, went over from close-quarters six minutes later. After a short interval, lock John Fowler scored from a five-metre scrum .

In the 39th minute Gloucester conceded a penalty try after collapsing a ruck and with Mannix kicking a penalty, Sale were 26 points ahead at the interval. Gloucester, looking exhausted, did not seem to know where to find reserves of energy.

It got worse for Gloucester before it got better, with Mannix scoring and converting his second try, rounding off Jos Baxendell's touchline run, five minutes into the second half. But Mark Mapletoft, Gloucester's saviour against Saracens, immediately restored a little morale by kicking off from the centre to find touch in the left corner, and then, from the line-out, going over for a try.

Sale increased their lead as first Adrian Hadley, then Tom Beim, twice, broke the Gloucester cover for tries. Audley Lumsden's late try and Mapletoft's conversion for Gloucester papered over few cracks in their crumbling performance.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, A Hadley, J Baxendell, T Beim; S Mannix, D Morris; P Winstanley, S Diamond (L Hewson, 60), A Smith, D Baldwin, J Fowler, D Erskine, C Vyvyan, D O'Grady.

Gloucester: A Lumsden; M Peters, C Emmerson, M Roberts (D Caskie, 33), M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), A Stanley, S Devereux, N Carter.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).