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Club Rugby

Cipriani finds hope for Sale in Mitchell's special experience


Sale's biggest crowd at the Salford City Stadium they moved into last summer witnessed a fifth loss in eight home matches but the Sharks' obdurate effort against the highly-paid, much-travelled Toulon spared them any hairdryer treatment from their new-old coach John Mitchell or the spectators.

Mitchell played for and coached Sale in their Heywood Road days in the mid-1990s before coaching his native New Zealand, among several top jobs. In his first fortnight at Sale's Carrington training ground – next door to Manchester City's – his clarity of thought and purpose has impressed fly-half Danny Cipriani.

"Did you watch that documentary about Jose Mourinho the other day?" Cipriani asked after his two penalties and clever line-kicking kept the Aviva Premiership's bottom club tolerably in touch with the stellar line-up from the south of France before they lost 17-6. "The way he gets his players to go with him is brilliant.

"I've realised with John that he really understands the game, he's been all over the world and he knows what he's talking about. It's important we try and draw from that experience. It's a mentality thing, and the way we started that game it's the best we've come out of the blocks for that first 20 minutes. It's going to bode well for us in the next six weeks."

Sale will go to Toulon on Sunday in a fairly hopeless position in Europe but they have must-win Premiership matches with Wasps and Worcester before the month is out.

Cipriani traded two penalties and two misses to Jonny Wilkinson's two and three respectively in a first half that also featured a typical Toulon try: Wilkinson's up-and-under, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe's fully-committed knockdown and a bullish sprint by the frighteningly quick David Smith. Two second-half penalties by Wilkinson did the rest, with Toulon held up twice on the Sale goalline.

Toulon have internationals from eight countries, and with 13 wins in 15 matches they are leading both Pool Six in the Heineken Cup and the French Top 14 Championship.

The quid pro quo for their Euro-laden imports is a lack of availability for international duty. In wet and blustery conditions it was difficult for Steffon Armitage to make a compelling case that England were missing him.

Andrew Sheridan, the prop once of Sale, has played 17 times for Toulon this season, including friendlies, yet appears to have written off reappearing for England or the British and Irish Lions. "The Lions is highly unlikely," Sheridan said. "There are a lot of good props around, and when you're not playing internationals, you're not in the shop window.

"We were happy with this win. I'm enjoying it at Toulon. Rugby is massive for the whole town."

The same could hardly be said for Manchester, but if Mitchell can apply the Mourinho touch Sale may just rise from the relegation gutter and start mixing it with the stars.