Hodgson closes in on Sale safety

Sale 17 Worcester 3
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The Independent Online

Points win prizes. Or in Sale Sharks' case, help them breathe a bit easier. For all the muscular intent emanating from the forwards and the high-octane skills demonstrated by the backs, it is more often than not the man who kicks the points who decides things on a rugby field.

In this spicy encounter, Sale's fly-half Charlie Hodgson slotted two drop-goals, two penalties and ran the game from start to finish. His opposite number Willie Walker missed two penalties and a drop-goal and did little else. Therein lies the real difference between the sides. End of discussion.

And, perhaps, the real beginning of the end of Worcester as a Guinness Premiership side after this crucial relegation encounter left them even more rooted to the bottom of the table then they were already.

"I don't think any of Willie's kicks were easy," Kingsley Jones, the Sale director of rugby, charitably said. "But when it comes to Charlie, you already know what I think. He is a bit like Marmite – you either love him or hate him and we love him here."

After a bright start from both sides that belied their lowly positions, Chris Pennell's penalty for Worcester had the direction but not the distance as it dipped under the crossbar after 20 minutes and Walker then missed another two minutes later.

Sale looked solidified by the returning England internationals Mathew Tait and Mark Cueto and they were involved in everything as Hodgson finally kicked the game's opening score after 29 minutes.

Hodgson's drop-goal soon after extended Sale's lead to six points and to compound matters for the Warriors, Walker missed another straightforward penalty before a further brilliant long-range Hodgson drop-goal made it 9-0 at the break.

Walker finally kicked his first penalty after the break to bring Worcester back within a score but when the impressive Cueto pounced on a bobbling ball to cross in the corner with 15 minutes to go, the game was Sale's.

"To be fair to Sale they edged the game and deserved it overall," Worcester's director of rugby Mike Ruddock said. "The drop-goals from Hodgson were a touch of class and made the difference but I was proud of my players."

Sale: Tries Cueto; Drop-goals Hodgson 2; Penalties Hodgson 2. Worcester: Penalty Walker.

Sale: Vakacegu; Cueto, Tait, Thomas, Cohen; Hodgson, Wigglesworth; Roberts, Briggs (Jones, 73), Forster, Jones, Schofield, Koyamaibole, Seymour, Ormsby.

Worcester: Latham; Pennell, Rasmussen, King (Grove, 57), Gear; Walker, Arr; Black (Black, 59), Fortey (Lutui, 40), Taumoepeau, Rawlinson, Gillies (Kitchener, 65), Wood, Sanderson (capt) (Cracknell, 51), Horstmann (blood: Cracknell 6-12).

Referee: W Barnes (RFU).