Nick Macleod kicked two second-half penalties as Sale Sharks came from behind to clinch a narrow victory in a dire cross-Pennines derby at Headingley last night, where things went from bad to worse for struggling Leeds.
Not only does this defeat leave the Yorkshire club rooted at the foot of the Premiership table – they have yet to secure a victory after six matches – but their England Elite squad flanker, Hendre Fourie, failed to return for the second half after suffering a rib injury.
The South Africa-born flanker will have a nervous wait for the diagnosis having already missed out on a possible England debut on the summer tour to Australia because of a calf injury.
"How severe it is we don't yet know," Leeds' head coach Neil Back said. "Hopefully, it will be right for the autumn internationals. I hope he gets his chance because he's deserved it."
There was, however, better news on the playing front for Martin Johnson, the England manager, with Mark Cueto and Andrew Sheridan, for Sale, and Leeds' Steve Thompson emerging unscathed ahead of the England squad training session on Monday for the build-up to the autumn internationals.
Ceiron Thomas kicked Leeds into a lead early in the second half but missed two further penalties, notably from just inside the Sale half eight minutes from the end. Sale, meanwhile, head towards mid-table sanctuary after earning their third victory.
Thomas, on his return from bench duty during the European break, also missed a 16th-minute penalty, and on the three occasions Leeds did force their way into the opposition 22 they turned over possession, with Fourie and centre James Tinknell both guilty of spilling the ball.
Despite Fourie's absence at the start of the second half, Leeds belatedly got the scoreboard ticking over with a Thomas penalty, but Macleod levelled matters on 50 minutes after Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson had struck a post with a drop-goal attempt.
Macleod booted Sale ahead on 58 minutes and would have extended that lead had a 60-metre penalty not hit an upright shortly after. Leeds were guilty of poor passing in the dying minutes as they sought desperately to pull the game out of the fire.
Scorers: Leeds: Penalty Thomas. Sale: Penalties Macleod 2.
Leeds: Thomas; Stephenson, Tincknell, Burrell, Blackett; Mackay, Mathie; Hardy, Thompson, Gomez; Denton, Wentzel (capt); Myall, Fourie, Browne.
Sale: Wlliams; Cohen, Macleod, Tuilagi, Cueto; Hodgson, Cliff; Sheridan, Briggs (capt), Wihongi, Lewaravu, Rouse, Fearns, McMillan, Koyamaibole.
Referee: J Garces (France).
*Alex Goode landed an extra-time penalty to give Saracens a 15-13 victory over Newcastle and put the London club on top of the Premiership table after a tense encounter at Kingston Park last night. A Luke Fielden try gave Newcastle a one-point advantage going into extra-time before Goode – who scored all Saracens' points with the boot – slotted the winning kick from 15 metres in front of the posts.