Rugby Union: Little light relief for edgy Sale

Sale 22 Bedford 3
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The Independent Online
SALE AND Bedford will be glad to see the back of this century, the last few years of which has treated neither of them very kindly. At least they are still with us, unlike Richmond and London Scottish, who have been dealt an even harsher fate.

Whatever plan is accepted for the future of the game in England, both Sale and Bedford are fighting for survival in Premiership One, so the immediate target for each of these impoverished and troubled clubs is to avoid finishing the season in bottom place. Sale edged away from the danger zone with their first league victory since October, but the final score flattering them at a blizzard-hit Heywood Road, against a Bedford side who stuck to their task right to the end.

When this arrived as Janneman Brand was driven across the Bedford line in the third minute of injury-time, for the only try of a scrappy game, it heralded a mutual outpouring of relief rather than applause.

As Sale's director of rugby, Adrian Hadley, acknowledged afterwards: "We're scrapping for every point and we were very nervous, especially when we got into Bedford's 22, when we panicked a bit. But our ball retention was better today and I thought we deserved to edge it".

With half-time imminent there were just three points in it, Nicky Little having kicked penalties either side of the solitary effort by Bedford's debutant outside-half, Andy Thompson. The Blues were pleased no doubt to take some hot interval refreshment a single score adrift. They had punished no end of Sale carelessness by hacking out great tracts of territory and, with Andy Gomarsall and Thompson kicking intelligently, ensured that Sale were obliged to launch most of their attacks from long range.

With the snow and sleet driving down the ground from the clubhouse end, it was hardly an afternoon for fancy football, though in the second quarter Sale showed that they were the more dangerous with the ball in hand. Jim Mallinder, Guy Manson-Bishop and Steve Hanley had combined to piece together Sale's most dangerous attack of the half. Bedford, back-pedalling furiously, infringed at the ruck for Little to kick his second penalty.

With nothing more welcoming in prospect than some Bovril and a change of thermal underwear, Sale then received a welcome gift from Florent Rossigneaux. The French flanker who had earlier been on the end of a punch, which was unseen by the referee or either of his touch judges, handled in the ruck for the second time and was sent to the sin bin. Little kicked the penalty, so Sale went in two scores to the good.

The Manchester club could hardly believe their good luck, especially as they needed it in lumps after the break, when Bedford - though reduced to 14 men - played their most insistent rugby of the day. Then, after Thompson had gone close to grabbing a try, it was Little who grabbed the limelight with a fourth penalty, a neat dropped goal, plus the conversion of Brand's relieving touchdown.

Sale: Try Brand. Conversion Little. Penalties Little 4. Drop Goal Little. Bedford: Penalty Thompson.

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell, A Blyth, S Hanley: N Little, C Saverimutto; P Smith (D Bell, 50), P Greening, D Theron, G Manson-Bishop, Baldwin (Fletcher, 62), P Angelsea, A Sanderson (capt, J Brand 37), A Morris.

Bedford: S Stewart; A Murdoch, D Harris, R Eriksson, G Truelove; A Thompson, A Gomarsall (capt); A Black (P Beal, 71), C Pearson, A Olver, C Eagle, D Zaltzman, R Winters, F Rossigneux, R Banks.

Referee: J Barnard (Driffield, North Yorkshire).

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