Benjamin and Garvey make Sale pay for wasteful play

Worcester Warriors 24 Sale Sharks 18: Worcester capitalise on visitors' inability to make final pass and a 'heartbreaking' refereeing decision
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The Independent Online

It would be wrong to pin Sale's failure to win this frustrating-to-watch match in the Premiership's middle reaches solely on their continual failure to deliver a telling final pass. Many of their other passes and their overall generalship let them down too. Worcester were quite content to pick up the pieces, and with a try in each half by their adventurous wings, Marcel Garvey and Miles Benjamin, the home side laughed their way to four valuable points.

Sale had intended to field Charlie Hodgson, but the former England fly-half dropped out with a toe injury and his subtle distribution was missed. Though the visitors' scrum often had Worcester's pack on toast – so much so that Sale earned four penalties for front-row collapses and kept on scrummaging in the second half when kickable penalties were on offer – the tendency to beat the first tackle only to fling a hospital pass or worse was endemic. The miscreants included but were by no means limited to Richard Wigglesworth, the scrum-half, who kept getting over the gain line but whose curate's egg of a match was typical of his team.

"I'm really trying to shake off the tag that we're not the same team without Charlie Hodgson," said Kingsley Jones, the Sale director of rugby, who lost lost half-a-dozen top internationals in the summer and was forced to concede local bragging rights here to his Worcester counterpart, Mike Ruddock, who hails from the same village in the Gwent Valleys. "There were about five final passes that didn't come off,but if it was flaky and loose that's how we wanted to play against Worcester."

The away side had won this fixture on the seven previous occasions. It should have been eight in a row, though Ruddock, naturally, demurred. "We deserved to win," said the man whose team had already beaten Leeds here this season. "It was evident Sale would move the ball and try and pick off our tight-five. But structurally we were sound in defence and we scored a good try ourselves with good offloading."

That try went to Benjamin in the second minute of the second half, and it gave Worcester a 21-8 lead which informed Sale's approach to everything that followed. Sale's full-back, Nick Macleod, kicked almost vertically in his 22, Netani Talei and Pat Sanderson snaffled possession and, at length, Benjamin found himself with only the lock Dean Schofield to beat. Sale's Oriol Ripol was apparently marking thin air.

Sale cut into that lead when Mathew Tait, in his favourite position of outside-centre, provided a jinking finish to a move in which Worcester, for once, had fallen asleep, expecting a knock-on to be called. Willie Walker landed a penalty, in off the left-hand post in the 69th minute, but it was temporary respite. Sale were well on top and they were flabbergasted to work Ripol into a try-scoring position only for the referee, Rob Debney, to call play back for a penalty against Worcester earlier in the move. There had been no obvious infringement by Sale and Jones called the decision "heartbreaking". Sale also had Eifion Roberts held up when he peeled round a line-out; four Worcester men picked themselves up gingerly but they had done their job on the 21st prop.

Only with 30 seconds left did Sale accept the inevitable. Mindful of securing a losing bonus point, Lee Thomas dropped a goal. Quite why Worcester then chose not to put the restart dead, with time up, was a mystery – as it happened they forced Sale into conceding a penalty, but Walker, aptly enough, missed it.

"We've been running a campaign to make the crowd our 16th man," said Ruddock, and these Worcestrians certainly make themselves heard. They cheered raucously when Walker converted Garvey's snappy try, from a scrum after eight minutes, dropped a goal and kicked two penalties. Walker should have had the full house but he allowed the ball to be bumped from his hands by Chris Bell with the line at hand. Bell had scored for Sale after 16 minutes when Tait's pass was cleverly flicked on by Macleod to James Gaskell, who gave the scoring pass.

Benjamin was caught trying to run out of his 22 in the 29th minute but Thomas, who had kicked a penalty after 12 minutes, made a horrible hash of this one. Maybe Benjamin did the wrong thing but, hey, while the grounds are firm and the sun is in the sky, go for it. Just make sure the passes stick.

Worcester C Latham; M Garvey, A Grove, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin (R Gear, 68); W Walker, R Powell (J Arr, 38-40); M Mullan, A Lutui (C Fortey, 68), T Taumoepeau (S Ruwers, 60-77), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (G Kitchener, 66), T Wood, N Talei, P Sanderson (capt).

Sale M Macleod; M Cueto, M Tait, C Bell (A Tuilagi, 50), O Ripol; L Thomas, R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan (J Forster, 58), M Jones (M Schwalger, 71), E Roberts, B Cockbain (D Tait, 55), D Schofield, J Gaskell, C Jones, D Seymour (capt).

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).