Rugby Union: French genius sinks Sale

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The Independent Online
Sale 12 Montferrand 17

Sale are in danger of allowing the season to slip away from them after collapsing to their third single-score defeat at Heywood Road when they first allowed Montferrand back into this European Conference match on Saturday and then permitted the leaders of Pool Two in the French Championship to steal the result with a try in the dying moments.

Mind you, it was some try. Were it not for the television shambles which has preceded the Cup and Conference competitions, Fabrice Ribeyrolles' decisive strike would not only be English television's principal contender for try of the month, but more probably the year. If not the decade.

The sequence is worth repeating for the only equipment available to record the score was carried by French cameramen. At 12-12, Sale and Montferrand were preparing for a draw. Then the flanker Arnaud Costes evaded a pincer tackle by Andy Morris and Dave Erskine. Gerald Merceron latched on to Costes' pass and fed Ribeyrolles, who set Merceron free in an electric burst up the left touchline.

David Bory took it on as Sale frantically attempted to defuse the danger but, in a final thrust, the wing broke Adam Griffin's tackle for Ribeyrolles to cross in the corner. Merceron's conversion miss counted for nothing as his four earlier penalty goals had provided Merceron with the platform to launch the French side's assault.

In tight games, decision-making and goal-kicking invariable prove crucial. In both key aspects, Sale were found wanting on Saturday, just as they had been in their games against Wasps and Bristol. To begin with here, Sale opted not to kick for goal when the chances came, preferring to tap and keep the ball in the hand.

Sale were ahead 12-9 by the end of the third quarter thanks to Griffin's four penalty goals and, even after Merceron had brought Montferrand level with his own accurate kicking, Sale spurned another shot at goal from an easy position.

"I think we should have taken that last one," reflected the Sale captain Jim Mallinder, "but in the first half we ran everything to keep moving them around. However, we couldn't do anything about that try."

Sale: Penalties Griffin 4, Montferrand: Try Ribeyrolles; Penalties Merceron 4.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); A Griffin, C Yates (S Verbickas, 70), G Stocks, A Hadley; J Baxendell, M Warr; A Yates (P Winstanley, 44), S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D Erskine, A Morris, C Vyvyan.

Montferrand: G Darlet (N Nadau, 72); R St-Andre, F Ribeyrolles, G Merceron, D Bory; E Nicol, C Larrue; C Duchene, O Azam, R Heyer, O Merle, E Lecomte, A Costes, J-M Lhermet (capt), C Juillet.

Referee: A Watson (Belfast).