The Cardiff Blues had the magnificent seven back in their ranks yesterday but still took their time stirring themselves into action. Indeed, even with Martyn Williams returning to the openside flank just three weeks after suffering ankle ligament damage, the Blues were on course for an embarrassing defeat until the dying embers of an EDF Energy Cup match that might have been expected to be something close to a formality.
Sale, fielding a shadow XV a week ahead of the first match of the their Heineken Cup campaign, away to Clermont Auvergne, were 17-13 up and looking good for an upset as the match ticked into what proved to be eight minutes of added time. But then the Blues summoned just enough attacking momentum to lever themselves off the hook. The replacement prop Gary Powell made the hard yards with a barrelling run and Jamie Roberts' inside pass allowed Richard Mustoe, a substitute wing, to burrow over on the left. Nicky Robinson fluffed the conversion but it was a luxury the visitors could afford. They had pinched victory by a point.
It was more than the Magners League side deserved against a team which included just one player who featured in Sale's Guinness Premiership defeat at London Irish on Wednesday night – that was Jason White, who only took the field at the Madejski Stadium as a replacement. There was no Luke McAlister, no Dwayne Peel, no Charlie Hodgson, no Sébastien Chabal and no Mathew Tait. Richard Wigglesworth was in the team, but as a stand-in stand-off. The England scrum-half made a thoroughly impressive job of it, too.
The Blues might have been excused for thinking it was going to be a relative breeze, even in the capricious northern wind, after they teased open a barn door-sized gap for the opening try. With 12 minutes on the clock and Sale 3-0 up courtesy of a penalty from the Blues old boy Nick Macleod, the visitors' scrum-half, Richie Rees, broke down the right and threw a dummy that gave Leigh Halfpenny a clear run to the posts as he cut inside from the wing. Ben Blair added the conversion for a 7-3 lead.
Three minutes later Chris Leck, Sale's third-choice No 9, whipped a long pass out to Oriol Ripol and the Catalan wing (who was later to depart with a broken right arm) surged from deep on the left to exchange passes with Richard Wigglesworth and feed the centre Rudi Keil for a try in the corner. Macleod fluffed the conversion as the swirling gusts continued to undermine both kickers. By half-time, though, Blair and Macleod had landed a further penalty apiece and the Blues had the wind up them, trailing 11-10 to a ghost XV who were showing that they actually had more than a little substance to them.
Even the loss of the hooker Marc Jones to the sin-bin three minutes before the interval failed to undermine Sale's resolve. Indeed, they were still a man short when they stretched their lead to 14-10 three minutes into the second-half, Macleod mastering the conditions to land a penalty from 40 metres out. Twelve minutes later Macleod was on target with his right boot again and the home lead was up to seven points.
As it transpired, the penalty that Ceri Sweeney struck for the Blues on the hour was decisive. It allowed the Welsh burglars to make off with a win after Mustoe applied the crowbar with the clock ticking down.
Sale: N Macleod; S Kuadey (N Royle, 53), R Keil, A Tuilagi (J Kennedy, 69), O Ripol; R Wigglesworth, C Leck; L Faure, M Jones, M Halsall (R Davies, 70), C Jones (A Shaw, 70), B Cockbain,J White (capt; J Gaskell, 69), D Tait (R Davies, 38-44), C Fearns.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny (R Mustoe, 52), J Robinson (T Shanklin, 80), J Roberts, G Thomas; C Sweeney (N Robinson, 66), R Rees; J Yapp, R Thomas (G Williams, 77), T Filise (G Powell, 56), B Davies (D Jones, 54), P Tito (capt), A Powell (R Sowden-Taylor, 66), M Williams, M Lewis.
Referee: T Hayes (Wales).Reuse content