Blues march on as Wales fret over Peel injury

Cardiff Blues 36 Sale 19
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The Independent Online

Dwayne Peel and his countrymen – not to mention an influential New Zealander – are desperately hoping the hangdog expression worn by the Wales scrum-half as he limped off the Cardiff City Stadium pitch was an exercise in overacting. Peel suffered a groin injury in the second half of Sale's fruitless Heineken Cup trip to his homeland and looks likely to miss the start of the Six Nations Championship, against England at Twickenham on 6 February. One of the most painful soft-tissue injuries in the sportsman's locker afflicted him early this season and, just when he was expected to continue the job he had in the autumn, filling in for the injured Osprey Mike Phillips it has struck again. Peel will have a scan this morning to determine the extent of the damage.

It is déjà vu in Six Nations terms too as Peel, having been on the bench for Wales' first three Championship matches last year, was picked ahead of Phillips to start against Italy only to pull out of that and the final fixture with Ireland after he tore a hamstring playing for his club. It is worse news now than it was then for Wales' Kiwi coach, Warren Gatland, who is naming his squad at lunchtime today. Those next in line after Phillips and Peel belong in the not-fully-trusted or up-and-coming categories; one from Martin Roberts, Richie Rees, Gareth Cooper and Warren Fury is set to start the always eagerly awaited set-to with the old enemy.

"Richie [Rees] has done well for us recently and has put his hand up for Wales," said Blues and Wales flanker Martyn Williams after a win which – due to the lack of bonus points secured by either side – left the way clear for Toulouse to guarantee themselves top place in Pool Five with their four-try defeat of Harlequins in France yesterday. The way the various pools are going, however, either Blues or Sale could yet make the quarter-finals as one of the two best runners-up, even with 18 points, which has never been enough in the competition's six previous seasons under the same format. Otherwise, a consolation place in the Challenge Cup is a possibility.

"We know we have to win well at Harlequins next week, whatever happens with Sale [against Toulouse]," said Williams. "Quins have some world-class players but it would be good for Wales if the regions could do well in Europe."

There has been a redistribution of wealth in the valleys since the pre-regional days when a dozen or so Welsh-qualified fly-halves would do weekly battle with their peers in club matches, red in tooth and claw. Blues have struggled to kick on from last season's successes, with Nicky Robinson lost to Gloucester during the summer, and his Australian replacement Sam Norton-Knight misfiring. It was left to Rees and the relatively venerable Ceri Sweeney to guide matters against Sale who – despite Charlie Hodgson's sometimes balletic contributions in the pivotal role – could not cope with the driving line-out of a heavyweight front five.

Cardiff Blues: Tries Rees, Davies, Rush; Conversions Blair 3; Penalties Blair 4, Halfpenny. Sale: Tries Koyamaibole, Tait, Gaskell; Conversions Hodgson 2.

Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala (T Shanklin, 69), J Roberts, T James; C Sweeney (S Norton Knight, 78), R Rees (G Cooper, 72); G Jenkins (capt), G Williams (TR Thomas, 70), T Filise (G Powell, 65), B Davies, D Jones (P Tito, 56), A Powell, M Williams, X Rush.

Sale: N Macleod; M Cueto, M Tait, L Thomas (J Kennedy, 59), B Cohen (D Doherty, 69); C Hodgson, D Peel (R Wigglesworth, 53); E Roberts, N Briggs (M Jones, 56), M Halsall (G Kerr, 75), D Schofield, J Gaskell (C Jones, 78), C Fearns, D Seymour (Kerr, 65-75), S Koyamaibole (L Abraham, 61).

Referee: R Poite (France).