Rugby Union: Sale pay a high price for errors

West Hartlepool 33 Sale 33
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The Independent Online
IT TOOK an injury-time penalty by Shane Howarth to salvage something for Sale from this mistake-ridden performance at Victoria Park, against a West Hartlepool side who refused to lie down. And yet, well before a nail-biting finale, Sale appeared to have put a wretched first-half display behind them and done enough during the third quarter to have taken both points, and thus worsen West's relegation plight.

Now, with only four games to play, Sale are going to have to see out the season like West, trapped in the relegation dog-fight. Had Sale exploited the superior pace and invention of their backs, and not been drawn into a forward battle they never looked capable of winning, it might have been different.

Apart from an explosive start, when a promising Sale attack was halted by an interception by Emmet Farrell, which almost led to a try, the first half hour produced just two penalties from Steven Vile and one by Howarth.

Then, the West forwards stamped their authority on the game and produced two splendid tries in eight minutes. It would have been three had the referee, Ashley Rowden, been allowed a clear view of James Ponton , as the West pack drove the flanker over the line.

That would have been Ponton's second, and, as Vile converted Ponton's earlier touch- down and his own, Sale were in considerable disarray at 20-3. But, just before half-time, Chris Yates opened up the West defence for Jos Baxendell to score at the posts and Howarth to convert.

Philippe Farner scored a try for West soon after the restart, but two penalties by Howarth kept Sale in touch at 25-16, before tries by Matt Moore and Dion O'Cuinneagain, each converted by Howarth, swung the game Sale's way.

But they persisted in driving at the West forwards, when a more expansive approach had already proved more productive. That gave Vile another penalty chance and, when Moore lost control of the ball over the Sale line, Mike Mullins pounced to put West back in front by 33-30. In the fifth minute of injury-time Howarth had a chance to equalise. It was from almost 50 metres. He never looked like missing.

West Hartlepool: Tries Ponton, Vile, Farner, Mullins. Conversions Vile 2; Penalties Vile 3. Sale: Tries Baxendell, Moore, O' Cuinneagain; Conversions Howarth 3; Penalties Howarth 4.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; J Benson, M Mullins, P Greaves (J Connolly, 58), S John (T Handley, 38); S Vile, T Nu'uali'itia (R Stone, 65); J J van der Esch (S Sparks, 46), S McDonald, K Fourie (P Seymour, 79), P Farner (capt), M Giacheri, J Ponton, D Monkley, M Brewer (D Hyde, 61).

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); B-J Mather (S Hanley, 61), J Baxendell, C Yates, M Moore; S Howarth, R Smith; D Bell, P Greening, D Theron, S Raiwalui, C Murphy, P Angelsea, A Sanderson, D O'Cuinneagain.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham, Berkshire).