Rugby Union: Sale full of pride on promotion

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Sale . . . . .41

Nottingham. . .7

THERE can be few more contented groups in English rugby than Sale's season-ticket holders. But it is not just the elation felt when Sale's return to the First Division was confirmed by the defeat of Nottingham.

Nor will that emotion seem adequate if Sale draw at West Hartlepool on Saturday and go up as champions. For what Sale have managed, and what has undeniably brought their followers as much pleasure as the team's advancement, has been the stylish way it has been achieved.

Often in recent seasons, Sale have looked the part early on only to fall away. Another winter of under-achievement seemed on the cards when they lost at struggling Otley in October. Then, before December was reached, they went down at Moseley and could only draw at home to Wakefield.

Days later, they had turned the corner, demolishing the previously unbeaten West Hartlepool three tries to nil with a polished display of free-running rugby.

The architect of Sale's elegant football is Paul Turner, the former Wales stand-off, who, at 35, is still abundantly creative and looking forward to the challenge of playing in the English First Divsion.

'When I came here two years ago, the players set themselves certain targets and we have now reached them,' Turner said. 'But I'm a realist and I know we're not fit enough and that sloppy try we gave Nottingham at the end could mean the difference between winning and losing in the top grade. Even so, we've got some good players. If we get off to a good start, I think we'll stay up playing the sort of rugby we have this season.'

This is welcome news for season-ticket holders who believe rugby is a handling game, as Sale have emphatically endorsed by scoring 56 league tries on the back of the best defensive record in the top four divisions.

Sale: Tries Baldwin, O'Grady, Young, Birt, Verbickas, Mallinder; Conversions Turner 4; Penalty Turner. Nottingham: Try Smallwood; Conversion Gregory.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); S Verbickas, J Baxendell, M Birt, K Young; P Turner, R Harper; M Whitcombe, S Diamond, A Smith, D Baldwin, R McCartney, D Erskine, D O'Grady, A Macfarlane.

Nottingham: R Byrom; R Bygraves, A Furley, B Musto, A Smallwood; G Gregory, A Royer; M Freer, D West, A Jackson, C Gray (capt), D Hindmarch, N Berry (R Brackenbury, 48), N Malik, M Bradley.

Referee: N Cousins (Herne Hill).