Rugby Union: Stransky kicks wind out of Sale

Pilkington Cup final: Last post for unlucky Sale as Leicester step out of the shadows to seal the season with silver
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The Independent Online
Leicester 9 Sale 3

Pens: Stransky 14, 39, 51 Pen: Mannix 40

Half-time: 6-3

IT IS hard to remember in the history of this Cup competition a side who have worked so hard to achieve so little. If ever a club deserved to win the Pilkington Cup Sale have, but having lost a league match they deserved to win last week to the same opponents, Sale yesterday were defeated in a Cup final in which they outplayed their opponents with a sustained zest and commitment but then dimmed with the frustration of unfulfilled opportunity.

In a match which they dominated for all but the first 10 minutes, Sale had countless opportunities. But they missed them and at this level the big prizes go to those who are able to seize the chances which present themselves.

Leicester, with three penalties kicked by Joel Stransky, did just that to take the Cup for the fifth time, although never have they been so fortunate to do so. After Sale had sucked up Leicester's opening salvoes they regrouped, putting their runners into positions from which they could win quick release to the gregarious Dewi Morris. They attacked close-in, principally through their tight forwards Phil Winstanley and Dave Baldwin, and their beautifully blended back row spearheaded by John Mitchell.

Wide out they had the most penetrative runners in Jim Mallinder and the wings David Rees and Tom Beim. If there was a problem it was that they could not get support quickly enough to Simon Mannix on the frequent occasions when he broke.

One by one the chances passed them by, especially during a period of sustained attack in the first half when not even Martin Johnson's line- out virtuosity could get Leicester back into the match. A Mannix penalty attempt rebounded from the top of the bar and then, from the following ruck, the Kiwi fly-half hit the left-hand post with a drop-goal attempt. Worse was to follow.

Beim, coming across field from the left wing, had only to find Rees with the pass for the right-wing to score a certain try, but failed to get the ball anywhere near him. Leicester were completely out of it and were trying every trick in the book to keep the ball away from the very real threat posed by Sale's backs. Their best chance had been in the opening five minutes when Austin Healey received quick ruck ball, but with a five- man overlap outside he critically delayed his pass to Stransky.

It was the ex-Springbok, whose penalty after 13 minutes had rounded-off Leicester's early dominance, who finally broke the siege in the first half. He ran gloriously from his 22, shaped to kick out of defence but instead accelerated downfield and found support from Healey, Will Greenwood and Leon Lloyd. It was a pound to a penny after so long in the wilderness that Leicester would strike swiftly with another Stransky penalty to give them a six-point lead which Mannix halved with his first penalty a minute into injury-time. As they had done the previous week Sale began the second half much as they had finished the first, but this time they maintained the boldness and conviction of their earlier thrusts.

More chances went begging and when Leicester set up a scrum in the left- hand corner close to the Sale line their supporters sat back to await the inevitable. No doubt they recalled the previous week when the Sale scrum had been penalised three times for collapsing by Ed Morrison and had finally conceded a penalty try. Was it legitimate or had the referee been conned by a Leicester front-row who had turned their opponents' weak- kneed submission to their advantage? Would Brian Campsall fall into the same trap? Not a bit of it. The scrum went down, the whistle blew and Sale were awarded a penalty. It seemed to reinvigorate the players who had shown signs of fatigue and frustration.

They were making more unforced errors by this time and after Mannix had missed with his fourth penalty attempt a thunderous roar greeted the emergence of Dean Richards, making what could be his last appearance in a big match at Twickenham.

But Sale still had a few shots left. Rees tore into the midfield and Dylan O'Grady was held up short. Then Mallinder had a go followed by Adrian Hadley. Somehow Leicester's defence held out. Leicester cleared their line but not far enough to repel Sale's rapacious attackers. Back they came and were held out - this time at the cost of a penalty.

But Sale required seven points not three and Morris went for the try. The attempt failed, Leicester won priceless time with a scrummage and gained ground from Stransky's touch-kick. By now Sale were back in their own 22 but when the final whistle blew they were still running from all directions and at all angles. It was Leicester, though, who ran up the steps to take the Cup and fittingly it was Richards who stepped up to receive it.

Leicester: N Malone; C Joiner, W Greenwood, S Potter, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey (A Kardooni, 71-74); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, J Wells (D Richards, 68), E Miller, N Back.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, A Hadley, T Beim; S Mannix, D Morris; P Winstanley, S Diamond, A Smith, D Erskine, D Baldwin, N Ashurst, J Mitchell, D O'Grady.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).

RFU row, page 18