Hodgson's boot makes Leeds' escape harder

Sale 15 Leeds Carnegie 12
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The Independent Online

In a similar manner to a band's second album, a second successive "Great Escape" can be infinitely harder to produce than the first.

Just ask Leeds head coach Neil Back, especially after a match with Sale last night that went in the home side's favour even though his side showed enough gusto to prove there is fight aplenty left at Headingley this season despite them looking ever further adrift at the bottom of the table after Charlie Hodgson's five penalties proved to be the difference.

Leeds managed to stay in the Premiership last year with a late resurgence that would have left Harry Houdini blushing and this time around has been just as tough and just as bleak. The writing is on the wall, not that anyone has told Back that.

"Absolutely," was his response when asked if his side can still stay up. "Last year we got the job done and I believe we will get the job done this year as well. I believe we can get what we need in the games remaining and stay in the Premiership."

It is not entirely blind faith from Back either after his side played "most of the rugby" here and scored two attractive tries to Sale's none.

But they also played as if they had never heard of Hodgson's metronomic right foot and frittered away the kind of penalties that Hodgson has kicked for fun throughout his career.

How Sale will miss him when he joins Saracens at the end of the season. How Leeds must have cursed him on the bus ride home last night.

"Obviously at this level Charlie is top drawer and he will be sadly missed but if he does it for the next five games then we will be happy," Sale's executive director of sport Steve Diamond said of Hodgson.

Hodgson gave Sale an early three-point lead but Leeds immediately responded as Henry Fa'afili profited from a comfortable overlap to cross while Adrian Jarvis landed a fine touchline conversion to wake Sale up.

That was the end of Jarvis's luck though as his next two penalties both hit the upright and bounced in Sale's favour before he missed a third attempt just before the interval.

In the meantime, Hodgson had kicked two elementary efforts and on such margins are games won and lost, as this encounter subsequently proved.

Leeds were within inches of regaining the lead 60 seconds after the restart but Mark Cueto managed to dump Luther Burrell into touch before a fourth and then a fifth penalty for the nerveless Hodgson inched Sale into more comfortable territory.

Leeds threw everything they had at Sale in the last quarter, including a punch or two, but resolute defence from the home side seemed to be enough until Michael Stephenson's clinical finish in the corner reduced arrears to three points with two minutes left. But another Leeds fairy tale went unwritten as they could not quite claw the deficit back further.

Sale: Penalties Hodgson 5

Leeds Carnegie: Tries Fa'afili, Stephenson; Conversion Jarvis.

Sale Macleod; Cohen, Bell, Tuilagi (Tonetti 34), Cueto; Hodgson, Peel (Cliff 75); Imiolek (Lewis-Roberts 27), Briggs (M Jones 78), Thomas (Imiolek 72), C Jones (Cox 64), Lewaravu, Gaskell, McMillan (Seymour 55), Koyamaibole.

Leeds Carnegie Stephenson; Blackett, Fa'afili (Tadulala 78), Burrell, Wackett; Jarvis, Mathie; (Hardy 32) MacDonald, Thompson (Freer 56), Swainston (Gomez 62); Browne, Hohneck (Paul 73); Myall, Fourie, To'oala (Oakley 66).

Referee W Barnes (RFU)