Not since January 1991, the week after Simon Hodgkinson kicked England's Arms Park hoodoo into the history books, had Ben Clarke suffered defeat in a Pilkington Cup tie. His immunity came to an end in the explosive denouement to this fifth-round tie at Heywood Road yesterday, one month short of the sixth anniversary of his losing role at Northampton in his Saracens days.
It might have been different for the captain of the nouveau riche Richmond but for the self-inflicted wound they opened in the final quarter. The culprit was the other Lion in the Richmond pack. Brian Moore's tap-dancing routine on John Fowler did not escape detection, his summary dismissal leaving the League Two side with a numerical disadvantage in terms of personnel as they strove to protect a 30-21 lead in the final 20 minutes. The task proved beyond them as Sale summoned the spirit and the tactical nous to grasp their chance.
The League One team played an ace in introducing David Rees, the England under-21 wing whose searing pace and elusive running took him through what seemed the entire, mesmerised Richmond pack for a try between the posts in the 75th minute. Simon Mannix converted to take Sale to within two points. Then the former All Black from Wellington delivered the coup de grace with his right boot, landing the penalty which edged Sale ahead for the first time since the third minute and adding another in injury time for good measure.
The consolation for Richmond was proof of their pedigree against top- level opposition. After four days galloping on Southport Beach, they played for the most part like the thoroughbreds into which Ashley Levett's pot of gold has transformed them since they ended last season with a League Three defeat at Fylde on the day Sale drew at Bath.
It looked less than promising for Richmond when, after Adrian Hadley ghosted past Brian Moore on the left wing, Mannix struck his first penalty inside two minutes. But Sale then choked in the act of running the ball out of defence, Andy Moore duly accepting the gift of an interception and easy stroll to the line. Simon Mason converted and Richmond wasted no time building on their seven-point platform.
Driving quick ball with pace and precision, they exposed raw nerves in the home ranks, Sale paying a heavy price for four cheaply-conceded penalties. Mason kicked them all, providing his team with a 16-point cushion going into the second quarter. Sale tightened the screws up front before Mannix broke from close range to force a penalty try he duly converted. Traded penalties left Sale in touch as they turned round with a 22-16 deficit.
It was Richmond, however, who took the early second-half initiative. Scott Quinnell, watched by the Lions manager Fran Cotton, was the fulcrum of much of their driving play and he set up Mason for a 48th-minute try.
Except for a sixth penalty by the Ireland full-back, though, it proved to be Richmond's last hurrah. Chris Yates touched down for Sale and Moore's exit turned the tide decisively in favour of the northerners.
Moore now faces an automatic two-month ban for stamping, and a disappointed Clarke said of the dismissal: "Brian is obviously disappointed. We have to stand by the referee's decision and that's what we will do. The game's about discipline and we didn't quite keep it, and that's probably what cost us at the end."
Sale: T Beim; C Yates, J Baxendell, J Devereux (D Rees, 70), A Hadley; S Mannix, D Morris; P Smith, S Diamond (capt), A Smith, D Baldwin, J Fowler, N Ashurst, D Erskine, A Morris (O Grady, 77).
Richmond: S Mason; J Fallon, A Bateman, M Hutton, S Brown; A Boyd, A Moore; C Clarke, B Moore, D Crompton, P Carr (D Cuthbert, 63), R West, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell, A Vander.
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).Reuse content