Rugby Union: Howarth stands out in stand-offs' battle

Sale 26 Gloucester 10
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The Independent Online
JOHN MITCHELL is not a man given to making extravagant claims, especially about the performance of individuals in what the England assistant coach regards as the ultimate team game. For Mitchell, who is also Sale's director of rugby, is also the ultimate pragmatist and, after Sale had punched a big hole in Gloucester's admittedly flimsy title challenge at Heywood Road, Mitchell was as disappointed by the tackle Kevin Ellis missed in injury time, handing Philippe Saint-Andre a simple try, as he was inwardly elated by the virtuoso display from the extravagantly talented Shane Howarth.

Yet afterwards Mitchell pointedly refused to acknowledge Howarth's brilliance, or that he had comprehensively outplayed his predecessor at Sale, Simon Mannix. "Shane was able to perform as well as he did," said Mitchell, "because he had the luxury of playing behind a dominant pack. Once our forwards got on top, Shane was able to run the plays as he wanted to. It might have been different for Simon if the Gloucester pack had been dominant."

With Mannix now being touted as the next England outside-half, what Mitchell did not say was how disappointed he must be that Howarth decided to throw in his lot with Wales, even though the England management team knew that Howarth was qualified to represent either country. Not only that, as he demonstrated against South Africa at Wembley last month, the former All Black can play at full-back or outside-half with equal facility. And he can kick goals.

Well before the Sale forwards gained the measure of an eventually passionless Gloucester pack, Howarth was varying the play and making the most of his options, given that Gloucester were ahead in the chase for possession in the first half. But all the West Country side had to show for their endeavours before the break, was a solitary Mannix penalty goal set against a well-crafted try by Howarth, which he duly converted.

From then until Ellis's minor misdemeanour, it was all Sale. They began with a state-of-the-art try, sparked inevitably by Howarth, who found Pat Sanderson with a long cut-out pass. Barrie-Jon Mather and Dion O'Cuinneagain took it on for Jim Mallinder to complete the 70-metre move in the corner. This was followed by a top-of-the-range effort, which was started by Simon Raiwalui, and went via Sanderson, Richard Smith, Howarth and Mallinder, for Steve Hanley to finish it.

Hanley's second, added to two more Howarth conversions finished Gloucester.

Sale: Tries Hanley 2, Howarth, Mallinder; Conversions Howarth 3. Gloucester: Try Saint-Andre; Conversion Mannix; Penalty Mannix.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); M Moore, S Davidson, C Yates (B-J Mather, 32), S Hanley; S Howarth, R Smith (K Ellis, 72); . Winstanley (D Williamson, 71), S Diamond (P Greening, h-t), D Bell, S Raiwalui, D Baldwin (C Murphy, 70), P Anglesea, P Sanderson (A Sanderson, 71), D O'Cuinneagain.

Gloucester: A Lumsden; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs (capt) P Saint-Andre; S Mannix, I Sanders; T Windo (T Woodman, 57), C Fortey, A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell, E Pearce, N Carter (K Jones, 57), S Ojomoh.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole).