Bristol 6 Sale 9: McAlister builds on defensive foundations to put Sale on top

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The Independent Online

They are not scoring many tries – one in three games can hardly be described as extravagant – but as they are not conceding any at all, Sale are decent value for their position at the top of the Guinness Premiership table. Bristol, clear underdogs despite home advantage at the Memorial Ground last night, tried desperately hard to record a first win of the season, but the new law variations have rendered their traditional driving game redundant. Sale have more flexibility, and it showed here.

Philippe Saint-André's team arrived in the West Country armed with their customary muscle. The outsized Andrew Sheridan and the even more substantial Eifion Roberts, who looked as though he might recently have swallowed a sofa, were book-end props of encyclopedic proportions, while Kristian Ormsby, a lock by any other name, was on the blind-side flank. More worryingly still for Bristol, the back row was completed by Sébastien Chabal and Luke Abrahams, dead ringers for the stone-age Boulder Brothers in Wacky Races.

Yet Bristol's pack dominated for lengthy sections of the first half, tearing into the breakdowns at full tilt. The home side deservedly reached the interval on level terms, Adrian Jarvis answering Luke McAlister's long-range opening penalty with a simple three-pointer after some sustained pressure. Indeed, they might have held an interval lead had the referee David Rose not ruled out, for reasons best known to himself, a tap-and-go try from Neil Brew. Sale were not without opportunities of their own, however: both Chabal and Chris Jones fumbled try-scoring passes close to the line. For all the heat generated by their hosts, the visitors looked more dangerous with ball in hand, especially when the gifted McAlister was threading his way through the most congested areas of the field. And the moment the All Black midfielder was granted a sight of the posts, there was an inevitability about the outcome. When Jason Hobson was penalised at a scrum shortly after the break, McAlister hit the spot from the best part of 50 metres.

He was at it again on 54 minutes, punishing the Bristol captain Joe El Abd's transgression on the floor. Ed Barnes narrowed the gap to three points six minutes from the end of normal time, but one last shot at the death proved out of his range.

Scorers: Bristol: Penalties Jarvis, Barnes; Sale: Penalties McAlister 3

Bristol: L Arscott; T Arscott, N Brew, E Barnes, D Lemi; A Jarvis (G Barden, h-t), G Beveridge (H Thomas 78); A Clarke, S Linklater (D Blaney, 86), J Hobson, M Sambucetti (R Winters, 60), N Budgett, A To'oala (R Pennycook 60), J El Abd (capt), D Ward-Smith.

Sale: M Tait; M Cueto, L McAlister, L Thomas, R Lamont; C Hodgson, D Peel (R Wigglesworth, 68); A Sheridan, S Bruno, E Roberts (S Turner, 74), C Jones (S Cox, 73), D Schofield (J White, 60), K Ormsby, L Abrahams (N Briggs, 57), S Chabal (capt).

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).