Rugby Union: Honiball shows his assurance

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The Independent Online
Sale 15 Bristol 40

ENGLAND MUST look like the green and gold grass of home to the Springbok outside-halves who have recently, or are just beginning, to ply their trade in the Premiership. It began with Joel Stransky's arrival at Leicester after he fell out of favour with the South African coach Carel du Plessis.

Jannie de Beer's recall to the Springbok colours during the World Cup - following a season with doomed London Scottish - had everything to do with Honiball falling victim to a hamstring injury. This after De Beer had originally pledged himself to Sale, once the tournament had been concluded. Even before De Beer's five dropped-goals destroyed England in the Paris quarter-final, the Springboks' management had decided to put him on contract, thus ruling out any move to Heywood Road. With precious little quality cover in the position, they had few options when Henry Honiball - who celebrates his 34th birthday next month - signalled his intention to retire from international rugby after the World Cup.

The Boks clearly know a good outside-half when they see one; and so does Bob Dwyer. As director of rugby at Welford Road, the Australian took Stransky to Leicester. Now as coach at Bristol, Dwyer has again done the perceptive thing and signed Honiball. There are bigger tests ahead for Honiball and Bristol than Sale were capable of staging, but it may well prove to be as astute a move as when Dwyer persuaded Stransky to move to the Midlands. Whatever, Honiball looks as if he is going to enjoy a golden retirement.

He played with an assurance and freedom not always evident in his Springbok days, but then the Sale defence is a large oxygen tent away from being of the suffocating variety. Honiball seemed as if he had several lungfulls of the vital element to spare, whenever there was a tackler in sight. For a big man (6ft 3in and almost 14st), he made it all look deceptively easy.

During the last Lions tour, the South African media dubbed Andre Joubert the Rolls Royce of full-backs. There was no such motoring allusion when Honiball's name was mentioned. Had there been, Honiball would certainly not have been likened to a Ferrari, more a Mercedes APV. On Saturday he made enough room to manoeuvre several Pickfords trucks in to.

Into the first space Honiball despatched that veritable dump truck of a centre, Jamie Mayer. Sale must have seen what was coming when Honiball repeated the trick 13 minutes later, but they were powerless to do anything about it, and Bristol were two smart tries to the good.

It got better in the second half when Honiball scored two of his own. James Brownrigg and Agustin Pichot cashed in as Honiball, converting five of Bristol's six tries, ran the show almost single-handedly.

Andy Morris and Craig Turvey scored tries for Sale but their contribution was largely irrelevant. This was Henry Honiball's day; and he revelled in it.

Sale: Tries Morris, Turvey; Conversion Davidson; Penalty Davidson. Bristol: Tries Honiball 2, Mayer 2, Pichot, Brownrigg; Conversions Honiball 5.

Sale: J Shaw; M Moore, J Baxendell (capt), B-J Mather, S Davidson; N Little, C Turvey (C Saverimutto 72); D Bell (P Winstanley 72), P Greening (J Clark 73), D Theron, M Tinnock (D Baldwin 55), A Whittle, A Sanderson, A Morris, J Brand (G Manson-Bishop 55).

Bristol: C McMullen; D Dewdney, E Simone, J Mayer, S Brown (A Cadwallader 50); H Honiball A Pichot; A Sharp, B Williams, D Crompton, O Booyse, D Ryan (capt), S Fenn (C Evans 48), A Vander, J Brownrigg.

Referee: B Campsall(Halifax).