A returning hero drew the line on any thoughts of generosity yesterday. Philippe Saint-André's Sale not only snapped up every opportunity, but by four bonus-point-earning tries to nil they exposed the profligacy of a hugely talented Clermont Auvergne side who tend to fall at difficult hurdles.
Sale could have had more, but no one was complaining after a stinging performance had stunned a team who are still waiting for great things. This, said Saint-André, was the second-best game he had enjoyed as Sale's director of rugby – the best being the beating of Leicester in the Premiership Final at Twickenham in 2006.
It is not often that French clubs indulge in displays of affection for visiting opponents, and that applies to other French teams as well as the dreaded Anglo-Saxons. But there was a line of people waiting for the Sale bus to draw up. They were there to greet and shake the hand of Saint-André, whose CV includes nine illustrious seasons with the Massif Central club, in which he delivered 141 tries and captained his country.
Not long into a first half which lasted just short of 50 minutes, a North Stand banner which read "Welcome back Philippe" had been rolled up and put away. Bodies were strewn all over the pitch as clattering exchanges took their toll, and the Sale centre Lee Thomas lasted only 12 minutes before being replaced by Rudi Keil. Thomas faces a month out with a shoulder injury.
Clermont showed threat and adven-ture, but a packed house saw them go 6-0 down to a penalty and a drop goal from the former All Black, and subsequently man of the match, Luke McAlister. McAlister then converted from the touchline after Dwayne Peel broke and passed to his captain, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, who gave the left wing, David Doherty, a scoring pass.
Two penalties from Brock James were scant reward for the home side in a first half played in sweltering heat – "It was like playing in a sauna and the players were very tired," said Saint-André – but their only reward in the second session was three more James kicks as they continued to spill passes,kick away possession and slowly lose all drive.
Tries from McAlister, Keil and Cueto, helped by some raking kicks from Charlie Hodgson, on as Richard Wigglesworth moved from fly-half to scrum-half to replace Peel, sealed Clermont's fate.
Next Sunday's match against Munster in Stockport is already a sell-out; a win would set Sale up beautifully in a difficult Pool One. Clermont meet Munster, the champions, home and away in December, which makes their game at Montauban a must-win affair.
Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; N Nalaga, B Baby (P-M Garcia,54), S Bai (A Mignardi, 75), J Malzieu; B James, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli (T Domingo, 62), M Ledesma (M Lopuzone, 62), D Zirakashvili (Emmanuelli, 72), J Pierre, T Privat (C Samson, 69), J Bonnaire, E Vermeulen (capt), A Audebert.
Sale: R Lamont; M Cueto (C Bell, 78), L McAlister, L Thomas (R Keil, 12), D Doherty; R Wigglesworth, D Peel (C Hodgson, 45); L Faure (E Roberts, 72), N Briggs (M Jones, 78), E Roberts (S Turner, 40), C Jones (J White, 69), K Ormsby, J Fernandez- Lobbe (capt), S Chabal (D Scholfield, 74), L Abraham.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).
Tries: Doherty, McAlister, Keil, Cueto
Cons: McAlister 3
Pens: James 5
Att: 15,681Reuse content