RICHMOND ARE not yet among the front-runners in the Premiership, but Sale are now firmly entrenched amid the also-rans after their sixth, and heaviest, loss of the season.
Having surrendered their unbeaten home record on a night when driving rain at Heywood Road was matched by the relentless driving of Scott and Craig Quinnell, Sale's director of rugby, John Mitchell, in no way attempted to minimise the scale of defeat.
"Richmond are one of the top six sides in the competition," said Mitchell, "and we have a long way to go before we can match them. Simply, they were much better than us. These lessons are difficult to take but we have to learn from them."
It cannot have been easy to sit through a lesson in how to play wet weather rugby, on the day Mitchell chose to unveil his latest signing, Phil Greening, the England and former Gloucester hooker. If Greening was in any doubt about the size of the job confronting him he is now fully aware of the task ahead.
A number of questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the Richmond forwards, and whether they are capable of providing a sound enough platform to sustain a title challenge. But the queries posed by Sale went unanswered, especially those at the line-out and in the loose.
Having allowed Scott Quinnell to bullock his way to the posts for the opening try, Sale gradually began to match the Richmond forwards' effort. Shane Howarth kicked a penalty before kicking Sale into the corner for a full-scale assault on Richmond's line. Chris Murphy soared high, Jan Machacek dived low, Howarth converted and Sale were temporarily in business.
But in no time Sale were wrong-footed by a jinking run from Earl Va'a, which Craig Quinnell enhanced with a try in the corner to put Richmond 12-10 up in first-half injury time, a position from which they never looked back.
Though Craig Quinnell was sin-binned for killing the ball to reduce Richmond to 14 men, they continued to pile on the pressure for Matt Pini and Spencer Brown to combine sweetly and send Allan Bateman across in the corner.
On another day the goal-kicking lapses by Va'a may have proved costly. But Sale were no more capable of exploiting them than they were in preventing Agustin Pichot and Brown tearing in for solo tries, after Tom Beim had been white-carded for a late tackle. To rub it in, Va'a converted both with aplomb.
Sale: Try Machacek; Conversion Howarth; Penalty Howarth. Richmond: Tries S Quinnell, C Quinnell, Bateman, Clarke, Pichot, Brown; Conversions Va'a 3; Penalty Va'a.
Sale: J Mallinder (capt); M Moore, S Howarth, J Devereux, T Beim; J Baxendell, R Smith (K Ellis, 72); D Bell, D Geraghty (S Diamond, 53), A Smith, S Raiwalui, C Murphy (D Baldwin, 53), D O'Cuinneagain, P Sanderson, J Machacek.
Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, A Bateman, J Wright, S Brown; E Va'a, A Pichot (A Moore, 71); D McFarland, B Williams (A Cuthbert, 72), D Crompton, C Quinnell, B Cusack, B Clarke (Capt; M Deane, 81), A Vander; S Quinnell (A Codling, 61).
Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).