Biarritz show of power leaves Sale little reward

Sale 0 Biarritz 15
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The Independent Online

With the business end of the season approaching fast, Sale are in danger of completing their campaign empty-handed; their only comfort being a doubling of attendances since they left Heywood Road for Edgeley Park in the summer.

On their day Sale, provided they are at full strength, are capable of beating anyone. But those days have been few and far between for a side who have oscillated between terrific and terrible, depending on their mood.

In fairness, it has not only been a question of Sale's mental demeanour, they have been badly affected by injuries to key players. They are already without Charlie Hodgson, who will know tomorrow if his damaged left knee will require surgery, and if it does, that will mean his absence from England's Six Nations squad.

Hodgson's half-back partner, Bryan Redpath, was taken off just before half time with a suspected dislocated shoulder. Added to these absences were Andrew Sheridan, Dan Harris and Mark Cueto. Brave though Sale were, especially in the last quarter when Biarritz tired, they were outmuscled by the French front five and outsmarted by their implacable defence.

Going into this match, Sale's European hopes were already hanging by a thread after last week's home defeat by Leinster, but this loss brought them to an end, whatever happens in their last game against Cardiff on Saturday. Biarritz need to beat Leinster at the Parc des Sports Aguiléra by seven points or more to make sure of qualifying for the quarter-finals. It should not be beyond them.

Jim Mallinder, Sale's head coach, was pragmatic as he reflected on his team's afternoon: "Against a top European side, you have to be as close to full strength as possible," Mallinder said. "I don't want to blame our injury situation, for we've been competitive in a very strong group. However, we have learned a lot along the way, and our number one priority is to get into Europe next season."

Biarritz scored a try at the start of each half: the full-back, Nicolas Brusque, scored the first, which Dimitri Yachvili converted, then hard-working prop Denis Avril burrowed over for the second.

Defensively, the French side were tremendous. When Sale were having their best spell, some of their forwards appeared be out on their feet, but once the siege was lifted, fly-half Julien Peyrelongue dropped a sweet goal to put the issue beyond doubt.

Biarritz: Tries Brusque, Avril; Conversions Yachvili; Drop Goals Peyrelongue

Sale: J Robinson; C Mayor, B van Straaten (V Going, 56), G Bond, S Hanley; J Baxendell, B Redpath (R Wigglesworth, 38); K Yates, M Cairns (J Roddam, 76), S Turner (B Stewart, 55), I Fullarton (C Day, 51), D Schofield (M Lund, 48), J White, A Sanderson (capt), C Jones.

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe, M Stcherbina (M Gaitain, 77), J Isaac (P Bernat-Salles, 77), J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvilli; P Balan (M Fitgerald, 66), J-M Gonzalez, D Avril, H Manent, D Couzinet (S Puleoto, 70), S Betsen, O Tonita (D Minassian, 19-29; D Chouchan 50), T Lievremont (capt).

Referee: A Rolland (Irl)