Roberts makes Sale's pitch to stay in cup hunt

Sale 21 Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

Edgeley Park? More like Sledgeley Park? Such was the snow scene at the home of Sale Sharks yesterday, twice in the second-half – with 20 minutes to go, and 10 minutes left – play had to be held up so that the lines could be swept of the white stuff piling up.

Thankfully for the Sharks, referee George Clancy allowed the Heineken Cup Pool Five contest to reach a conclusion. They had to dig for the victory that keeps them very much in the hunt for quarter-final qualification, though. And that was before a ball had even been kicked.

Sale had to marshal an army of volunteers to shovel enough snow off their pitch just to make it playable. It was that, or just about, before the flurry that made for a lottery in the final quarter. By then, though, Kingsley Jones's men had claimed what proved to be the decisive score. It came, appropriately enough, from the North Walian prop who goes by the name of The Fridge. The 21-stone bulk of Eifion Roberts proved too much for Quins at close quarters in the 56th minute.

With 11 points from the boot of Charlie Hodgson plus an early try from Sisa Koyamaibole, Sale secured the win that keeps them snapping at the heels of Toulouse in the pool table, a point behind with two matches to play. The three-times European champions visit Stockport in the final round of matches next month.

"We'd like to order the snow for when Toulouse come," Jones, Sale's director of rugby, quipped. "I never played in anything like that. There was so much snow coming down, at times I couldn't see. Full credit to Quins. They gave it a right go."

They did indeed – even though they were already out of the qualification equation and were five points down after four minutes, Koyamaibole, Sale's Fijian outhouse of a No8, having bulldozed through three defenders from close range. Quins turned that into 7-5 to the good when Nick Evans, their New Zealand fly-half, added the extras after riding a last-ditch tackle from Luke Abrahams to score at the other end four minutes later.

Harlequins then proceeded to get the squeeze on up front and gained tangible reward when prop Aston Croall emerged with the try-scoring honours from a driven scrum and Evans again converted, making it 14-5 to the Londoners. Still, Hodgson penalties either side of half-time cut the lead to three points and, after a prolonged attacking push, Roberts twisted and turned his way over from a five-metre scrum under the posts.

With Hodgson's conversion, and a penalty apiece in the final quarter, it proved enough to keep the Sharks in the hunt for a quarter-final place.

Sale: Tries Koyamaibole, Roberts; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 3. Harlequins: Tries Evans, Croall; Conversions Evans 2; Penalty Evans.

Sale: N MacLeod; M Cueto, M Tait, L Thomas (D Bishop 60), B Cohen; C Hodgson, D Peel (R Wigglesworth 57); E Roberts, N Briggs (M Jones 53), J Forster (M Halsall 61), C Jones, D Schofield (capt), C Fearns, L Abraham, S Koyamaibole (D Seymour 60).

Harlequins: M Brown (R Clegg 75), T Williams (D Strettle 55), G Lowe, T Masson, U Monye; N Evans, K Dickson; A Croall (C Jones 60), T Fuga (C Brooker 50), M Lambert (J Johnson 60), L Stevenson, G Robson, T Guest (C Robshaw 55), W Skinner (capt, N McMillan 67), N Easter.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).