Rugby Union: Golden Graham

Manchester Sale 20 Newcastle 28
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The Independent Online
CLIVE WOODWARD, the England coach, had arrived at Heywood Road with the intention of seeing for himself if all the stories about Steve Hanley bear any truth. He was not to be disappointed. Hanley crossed three times in the first half, though it was only at the third attempt that the try stood, to haul Sale back into contention, after another of Woodward's bright hopes, Jonny Wilkinson, had kicked Newcastle into the lead with the first of his three penalties, and the conversion of George Graham's try. Ultimately, it was Wilkinson's contribution which separated the two sides, earning the champions only their third away victory in the league this season.

For all their problems, Sale are as good a counter-attacking side as there is in the Premiership. They thrive on quick ball, to put their quick men such as Barrie-Jon Mather, Shane Howarth and the remarkabe 19-year- old Hanley into space. But defensively they are a bit of a nightmare, which explains their lowly league position. It was not long before they revealed the best and the worst of themselves.

Howarth had injected some pace into a move from 50 metres but, though he was able to despatch Hanley into the corner, his pass was adjudged forward. Having rebuffed every other Sale attack, Graham led Newcastle upfield with two typically robust charges. On each occasion Sale allowed the Newcastle prop too much time on the ball. The next time, after Ross Beattie and Richard Arnold had again exposed Sale's defensive frailties, Graham made it to the line for the opening try and suddenly Sale were 13 points adrift, appearing for all the world as if further indignities were about to be heaped upon them.

That never happened, as they gave full rein to their attacking instincts with tries from Steve Davidson and Dion O'Cuinneagain. But Newcastle - though they were exposed once or twice by Sale - tightened their game. Tony Underwood nicked a try back from intercepting a loose pass, Wilkinson then kicked his third penalty to break the 20-20 stalemate, before Hugh Vyvyan grabbed a debut try in injury time.

Sale: S Howarth; S Davidson, B-J Mather, C Yates (M Moore, 82), S Hanley; J Baxendell, R Smith; P Winstanley (D Williamson, 64), P Greening, D Bell, S Raiwalui, C Murphy, P Anglesea (capt), A Sanderson, D O'Cuineagain.

Newcastle: P Massey; J Naylor (T Underwood, h-t), M Shaw, J Wilkinson, V Tuigamala; R Andrew, G Armstrong (capt); G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, D Weir, H Vyvyan, R Arnold (I. Peel, 78), J Carmel (P Walton, 53), R. Beattie.

Referee: G Warren (Bristol).