Plotter Potter

RUGBY UNION Sale 12 Leicester 16
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The Independent Online
SALE may surprise us yet. Or perhaps that should be yet again. To the surprise of everyone except their mastermind, Paul Turner (on the replacement bench yesterday), they finished fourth in the First Division last season. And so far this autumn they have not only beaten Gloucester, and at full-time on all but the referee's watch, they were leading the champions, Leicester, 12-9. But the Tigers seem able to put a jinx on Sale, and six minutes were added before Leicester scored their only try to save the match.

While you wondered where those six minutes of stoppage had come from you could only feel sorry for a Sale team who had effectively traded moves and tackles on pretty equal terms with Leicester until the dying minutes. It has to be said, though, that Sale voiced no complaint with the referee and were quick to disassociate themselves from some the of the unflattering comments directed at him by a section of the crowd.

The two sides tend to niggle a bit at each other, and despite the presence of the Liley brothers, John the older, at full-back for Leicester, and Rob at standoff for Sale, fraternal feelings were not widespread. The first 70 minutes belonged to the brothers, John kicking two penalties and Rob one in the first half, and then Rob, early in the second, dropping a splendid 40- metre goal diagonally from the left which levelled the scores and created the setting for the final bout of excitement.

The earlier exchanges had been less diverting. Injuries and stoppages had added five minutes before the interval too, without adding much to the entertainment. For although the play was full of vitality the concentration span of the teams fell short of bringing any move to completion.

Rob Liley's drop-goal, however, livened things up, especially when he added a second penalty to put Sale ahead. Until now the defence on both sides had appeared too strong to breach. But if Leicester were to maintain their position they would have to find a way through. Their first counter- attack was muted: a penalty kicked by Niall Malone while John Liley was having his head sponged after a tackle. And it did not seem nearly enough when, almost on the stroke of normal time, the Sale centre Gareth Stocks dropped a goal.

Sale thought, understandably, that that was it. But Leicester, playing to the delayed whistle, had yet to score a try in which practically every member of the side combined to put Stuart Potter over. Fittingly, John Liley came back to take the conversion - his attacking game, his fielding of the high ball as well as his kicking had been irreproachable throughout and added the final Leicester points. Bully for them, but other opponents may not have quite so long in which to overcome Sale's habitual stubborn resistance.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); C Yates, J Baxendale, G Stocks, M Appleson; R Liley, C Saverimutto; P Smith, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D Erskine, N Ashurst, C Vyvyan.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, R Robinson, S Potter, R Underwood; N Malone, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).