Rugby Union: Howarth's head for heights

Sale 26 Gloucester 10
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The Independent Online
SALE'S CLIMB to the relative security of mid-table in the Premiership had been steady rather than spectacular until Shane Howarth orchestrated a four-try demolition of Gloucester at Heywood Road in a match which, at least until half-time, looked as if it could provide the West Country side with their second away league win of the season.

Howarth, equally at home at outside-half or full-back, where he played for Wales last month, was never first choice in his favoured position while Simon Mannix was a Sale player. But with Mannix now at Gloucester, and looking well behind Howarth in the rankings, this was Howarth's day. And how he made the most of it.

Although Howarth was continually varying Sale's approach in the first quarter, it was not until Sale were confident they had got the measure of the Gloucester pack that he was able to give full rein to his talents and make the most of the options he created.

After battering away at the Gloucester line for almost five minutes, when they failed to make much headway against some resolute defending, Howarth finished off a move which finally stretched the visitors' cover to breaking point. His conversion was countered by a Mannix penalty goal, so that the teams went in with Sale just 7-3 to the good.

While John Brain's recall as the Gloucester forwards' coach has infused his charges with greater self-belief, it does not appear as if what he has had to say to them has improved their ability to think on their feet. And it was clear from the restart that Gloucester were not going to change their ways. In no time Howarth had changed the course of the game.

A long pass from Howarth put Pat Sanderson into space. Barrie-Jon Mather took it upfield and, when his run was halted, Dio O'Cuinneagain slipped the ball to Jim Mallinder to complete a move which had covered fully 70 metres for a try of quite breathtaking quality.

Sale's next score was almost as good. Simon Raiwalui set it up again, Sanderson was the link, Richard Smith, Howarth and Mallinder then combined sweetly to send Steve Hanley racing across in the corner.

From there Gloucester fell apart, as Howarth kept Sale's momentum at boiling point. When Gloucester were awaiting Howarth to step up for a penalty kick at goal in front of the posts, Hanley took all Gloucester unawares to stride unopposed for a simple try.

Howarth converted two of Sale's second-half tries to leave Gloucester hopelessly adrift at 26-3. With Sale going through the dying moments replacement ritual, Philippe Saint-Andre broke through Kevin Ellis's weak tackle for a try in injury time. Mannix converted.

Sale: J Mallinder (Capt); M Moore, S Davidson, C Yates (B-J Mather, 32), S Hanley; S Howarth, R Smith (K Ellis, 72); P Winstanley (D Williamson 71), S Diamond (W Greening, h-t), D Bell, Raiwalu, 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 5), C Fortey, A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell, E Pearce, N Carter (K Jones 57), S Ojomoh.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole, S Yorks).