Worcester's defence keeps out marauding Tait

Worcester 24 Sale 18
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The Independent Online

"It's the first time I've been here and lost," muttered Kingsley Jones, the director of rugby of Sale, adding, almost in a whisper: "What a bugger." The one-time international flanker could not legitimately claim to be a man of few words – the age-old line about donkeys and their hind legs often springs to mind in his connection – but in the space of two sentences, one of them unusually short, he said all that needed saying. Mathew Tait, his outside centre, said even less. There again, he did his talking on the pitch.

Some of the midfielder's attacking work at Sixways on Saturday was of so high a standard, it was difficult to work out how he finished on the losing side. Used, misused and positionally abused for longer than it is comfortable to remember, he asked so many questions of Worcester's defence during the 80 precious minutes spent in his preferred role that Graham Rowntree, the visiting member of England's hierarchy, could not have failed to notice, despite looking at the game through a scrummager's eyes.

Jones said afterwards that in his opinion, Tait was a natural No 13 and would therefore play there more often than not. He was supported in this view by Jason Robinson, no less. "I suppose it's fair to say that Mathew has been affected by his own versatility," said the Lions wing, now making his way as Jones' assistant. "I think he's at his best at outside centre. He's extremely dangerous on the outside arc, much stronger than he's given credit for and has great footwork."

Yet Tait, aided and abetted by Richard Wigglesworth, could not quite inspire Sale to victory here, despite cutting a dream of an angle and galloping in under the Worcester sticks midway through the final quarter. The visitors conceded a soft try in either half – Chris Bell was given the runaround by Marcel Garvey early on; Dean Schofield found himself horribly exposed by Miles Benjamin – while taking an unearthly amount of time to score one of their own after the break. This latter problem was due to a combination of inaccurate passing with the goal-line begging, iron defence and rank bad luck.

To his credit, Jones refrained from discharging both barrels in the direction of Rob Debney. The referee called most things Sale's way, especially at the scrummage, but failed to play an obvious advantage just as Oriol Ripol was scuttling towards the Worcester line two minutes into stoppage time. "I thought there must have been a knock-on or some other infringement by us, but I've checked it and there wasn't," Jones said. "Oh well. You can't harp on about these things."

He knew that it should not have come down to one dodgy call by the man with the whistle. Sale spent virtually the entirety of the second period in Worcester's half, only to invent a whole range of new ways to mess up. Tait's try was almost half an hour in the scoring, and when the Worcester outside-half Willie Walker kicked a penalty almost from the restart following Mark Cueto's ill-advised attempt to run the ball out of his 22, all that effort seemed likely to be wasted. In the event, Lee Thomas salvaged a losing bonus point with a drop goal in the 89th minute. Had he not done so, Jones' colourful language might have turned a deeper shade of blue.

Scorers: Worcester: Tries Garvey, Benjamin; Conversion Walker; Penalties Walker 3; Drop goal Walker. Sale: Tries Bell, Tait; Conversion Wigglesworth; Penalty Thomas; Drop goal Thomas.

Worcester: C Latham; M Garvey, A Grove, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin (R Gear 75); W Walker, R Powell (J Arr 40–h-t); M Mullan, A Lutui (C Fortey 74), T Taumoepeau (S Ruwers 66-85), G Rawlinson, C Gillies (G Kitchener 72), T Wood, P Sanderson (capt), N Talei.

Sale: N Macleod; M Cueto, M Tait, C Bell (A Tuilagi 51), O Ripol; L Thomas, R Wigglesworth; A Sheridan, M Jones (M Schwalger 76), E Roberts (J Forster 62), B Cockbain (D Tait 58), D Schofield (capt), J Gaskell, D Seymour, C Jones.

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).