Hodgson conducts Sale's onslaught

Sale 34 Agen 18
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The Independent Online

A devastating second-half performance saw Sale give themselves a fighting chance of qualifying for the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup with a first leg win over Agen at Edgeley Park.

Trailing 15-6 at half-time the Sharks, unbeaten in Europe this season, showed all the battling qualities that have taken them to third place in the Zurich Premiership as the side from the south-west of France succumbed to a relentless home onslaught.

Charlie Hodgson was once again the tormentor-in-chief, successfully registering seven out of nine kicks and setting up tries for Magnus Lund and Mark Cueto.

A stream of penalties forced referee Carlo Damasco to send stand-off Jerome Miquel to the sin-bin as Sale took the whip-hand early on.

But after 14-man Agen surprisingly scored the first try in the 17th minute, the Sale faithful were further dismayed towards the end of the half when the Italian official brandished a yellow card to Sebastien Chabal for what seemed like a perfectly fair crunching tackle on Miquel. The incident sparked something of a free-for-all between both sets of forwards.

Later, hooker Jean-Baptiste Rue became the third player to see yellow. Sale added a third try in the closing stages through winger Steve Hanley.

But Sale's coach, Philippe Saint-André, must be wondering if a 16-point advantage is enough to take to France for the return leg of the quarter-final in a competition that offers the outright winners a direct passport to the Heineken Cup.

Sale: Tries Lund, Cueto, Hanley; Conversions Hodgson 2; Penalties Hodgson 5. Agen: Tries Califano, Lafforgue; Conversion Miquel; Penalties Miquel 2.

Sale: Robinson; Cueto, Baxendell, Rhys Jones, Hanley; Hodgson, Wigglesworth; Sheridan, Titterell, Turner, Day, Schofield, White, Lund, Chabal. Replacements: Halsall, Stewart, Caillet, Foden, Hercus, Carter, Jones.

Agen: Elhorga; Larguet, Mirande, Lafforgue, Coro; Miquel, Tandonnet; Crenca, Rue, Castellina, Fevre, Dellape, Lievremont, Yukes, Socol. Replacements: Nargissi, Blanco, Persico, Bonetti, Stoltz, Califano, Caucaunibuca.

Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy).