Hodgson keeps Sale on song for Europe

Charlie Hodgson chalked up 21 points as Sale sealed a 31-20 victory at Leeds and qualified for the Zurich wildcard semi-finals next Saturday.

The England fly-half, who is expected to be named in Clive Woodward's squad for next month's tour Down Under, helped himself to a full house of three penalties, two conversions, a try and a drop goal. Sale's other points came from tries by Chris Rhys Jones and Mark Cueto. Leeds, who finished second from bottom in the Premiership, also crossed three times - through Dan Hyde, Matt Cardey and Tom Palmer - with Gordon Ross and fellow Scot Duncan Hodge landing a penalty and a conversion respectively.

Saracens climbed above Leeds in the table and denied London Irish an appearance in the wildcard semi-finals, which offer the overall winners a place in next season's Heineken Cup, with a 20-14 win at the Madejski Stadium.

Simon Raiwalui, Saracens' Fijian captain and lock, twice barged across the Exiles' line and Robbie Kydd also went over while Nicky Little supplied a penalty and a conversion. Justin Bishop ran in the home side's only try and their other points came via penalties - two by Mark Mapletoft and one by Barry Everitt.

Newcastle, who have qualified for the 2004-05 Heineken Cup by dint of their Powergen Cup triumph last month, defeated relegated Rotherham 26-20 at the Don Valley Stadium. The Titans, who picked up only their third bonus point en route to becoming the first side to lose all 22 matches in a Premiership campaign, had hoped the switch to Sheffield from their Millmoor base would bring about a change of luck.

Falcons' fly-half Dave Walder kicked 16 points, including conversions to tries by Michael Stephenson and Jon Dunbar. Rotherham, who led through a Mike Umaga try, owed the rest of their points to fly-half Phil Jones.

Waikato Chiefs booked a Super 12 semi-final berth against Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch despite losing 15-12 to ACT Brumbies in Hamilton. The Brumbies' win meant they headed the round-robin phase of the tournament to earn a home semi-final appointment with Western Stormers, who fought back from a 12-0 deficit to eclipse Natal Sharks 31-24 in Durban.

Auckland Blues, the holders, narrowly failed to reach the last four despite thrashing Otago Highlanders 50-22, with All Blacks Kees Meeuws and Doug Howlett claiming try doubles. NSW Waratahs also missed out on the semi-finals when they went down 23-7 to Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, the Bulls had the better of an amazing 62-52 scoreline against the Cats in Pretoria. The Bulls' scrum-half Fourie du Preez and the Cats' lock Gerrie Britz each recorded a hat-trick of tries.

Wildcard semi-finals, both Saturday 15 May: Gloucester v Sale (5.05pm); Leicester v Harlequins (7.15pm). Final at Twickenham on 29 May (3.30pm).

Premiership play-off, Sunday 16 May: Wasps v Northampton (3.00pm). Winners meet Bath in final at Twickenham on 29 May (6.00pm).


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