Cipriani the saviour as Sale finally secure their first victory
Sale 34 Cardiff Blues 33
Salford City Stadium
Monday 15 October 2012
Sam Warburton was in casualty getting the dislocated middle finger of his left hand put back in place while Danny Cipriani was performing an emergency operation on his ailing new team yesterday. In the latter case, the repair work proved successful – to a giant collective sigh of relief on the west side of Manchester.
Warburton, Wales' captain fantastic and Cardiff Blues' magnificent No 7, lasted only three minutes of a Heineken Cup Pool Six contest overflowing with points and drama before suffering the collateral damage that took him off to the local infirmary.
It was not until the 50th minute that Cipriani – short of form, consistency and starts since his summer move from Melbourne Rebels – was released from the torment of the bench. At that stage, with six Premiership defeats behind them and a deficit of 27-12 on the scoreboard, it was fair to say that Sale were suffering from a bad side.
There was little sign of a healing touch when Cipriani – a replacement for Nick Macleod, preferred as a starting fly-half for a third successive match by Sale's director of rugby Bryan Redpath – hurled a loose, wildly ambitious dambuster of a pass out to the right wing to spurn his first attacking opportunity.
It was different a few minutes later as the former England wunderkind launched the Lazarus-style comeback that ultimately earned the hitherto toothless Sharks their first win of the season under their new director and their first win in their new home.
Cipriani drew the Blues defence with a beautifully delayed zipped pass out to Will Addison wide on the right and took a return feed from the centre before skipping over the whitewash for his first Sale try. Then, with 64 minutes on the clock, the 24-year-old produced a delightful offload out of the back of his hand while mid-pirouette, allowing replacement centre Johnny Leota to feed a scoring pass to young wing Mark Jennings.
Thanks to a third try, courtesy of veteran prop Tony Buckley five minutes from time, and a conversion and penalty by full-back Rob Miller, Sale were able to complete their unlikely comeback and finally get their season up and running. As for Danny boy, two years on from being squeezed out of the England picture by Martin Johnson, surely he will be back running operations for Sale from the start when they tackle Montpellier on French soil on Sunday.
"Hopefully, I've put my hand up," Cipriani said, when asked what he needed to do to tie down the No 10 shirt for club, let alone country. "Just keep playing the way I'm playing. I came off the bench against Bath and tried to make an impact. Things went all right then. Then today it went all right as well. It's just up to the coach now, obviously."
Redpath could not have failed to have been impressed. "It's great to see Danny perform like that," the former Scotland scrum-half said. "Hopefully it opens the door for some consistent performances – from everyone. It's a huge confidence boost.
"Danny's attacking flair has never been in question. For me, there are two other elements to his game – field position and control – and he had three great kicks to get the forwards in position to give him a platform to play off. He also made his tackles when he needed to. Hopefully Danny and the team can kick on from this and we can all look upward."
Certainly, Cipriani does not fancy kicking his heels on bench duty while waiting for a walk-on role. "I want to start, obviously," he said. "Every No 10 wants to start. I'm not taking anything away from Nick. He's been a long servant for the club and he's a great player.
"I've just got to keep working at it and hopefully get a start next week."
It was not clear whether Warburton was hurt in the act of putting his hand up or in getting it stuck at the bottom of a ruck during an early skirmish.
The damage was clear to see, though, on the X-ray that the Wales captain posted on Twitter, together with the message: "Suddenly dawned on me I may have fingers like Martyn Williams by the time I finish playing."
The Blues coped well enough without him after absorbing a sustained spell of early pressure from the home side.
Alex Cuthbert, their giant right wing, plundered a hat-trick of tries before the interval, and Leigh Halfpenny was in deadly form with the right boot, landing seven place kicks out of seven.
Crucially, though – reduced to 14 men for the final seven minutes when replacement scrum-half Lewis Jones was yellow-carded for some spoiling tactics – Cardiff were unable to stem the shift in momentum that left Danny feeling champion and on top of the world.
Sale: Tries Cipriani, Jennings, Buckley. Conversions Miller 2. Penalties Macleod 4 , Miller.
Cardiff: Tries Cuthbert 3. Conversions Halfpenny 3. Penalties Halfpenny 4.
Sale: R Miller; M Jennings, W Addison, S Tuitupou (J leota, 60), M Cueto; N Macleod (D Cipriani, 50), N Fowles (C Willis, 50); E Lewis-Roberts, T Taylor, T Buckley, R Gray, F McKenzie (J Gaskell, 60), R Vernon, D Seymour (capt), A Powell.
Cardiff: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, G Evans, J Roberts, T James; C Sweeney, L Williams (L Jones, 70); T Filise, M Breeze (A Kyriacou, 51), B Bourrust (N Trevett, 50), B Davies, L Reed, J Navidi, S Warburton (R Copeland, 3), A Pretorius (capt).
Referee: J Garces (France).
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