Hodgson takes Sale to deserved piece of silverware

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The Independent Online

This comprehensive victory in the European Challenge Cup final - which carries automatic entry into the Heineken Cup next season, though Sale had already claimed a place through the Premiership - meant a great deal to the many and the few at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford.

Collectively, it was something to show for Sale's superb season. Individually, it was important for their retiring scrum-half Bryan Redpath, being the perfect note on which to end his distinguished career. For each of Sale's five Lions it marked a step up in preparations for the tour to New Zealand.

Jason Robinson was back to his mesmerising best, his fast footwork at times making Gene Kelly, not to mention the underperforming and disappointing Pau, look pedestrian. The Sale captain and England full-back showed his claws on numerous occasions.

Charlie Hodgson did miss a couple of kicks at goal, but he scored two tries and was always in control at fly-half. There has been a lot of talk about Jonny Wilkinson and Stephen Jones being the first choice fly-halves for the Lions, but on this showing Hodgson will challenge their status.

The wing Mark Cueto was at his deadly best. Apart from taking his season's tally in all competitions to an impressive 28 tries, he also set one up for Andy Titterrell, another Lion who was on song, if out of his touring position of hooker and playing on the open-side flank.

As for Andrew Sheridan, his performance matched his bulk - 6ft 5in and 19st. The prop was immense. And while he is built like a brick outhouse, in a year's time he will be qualified to construct one as well.

Sheridan is two-thirds of the way through a three-year bricklaying course, and when challenged as to whether it was real bricklaying retorted: "Well, it's not Lego."

The 26-year-old, who converted from lock to prop a while back and is still learning the dark arts and craftiness of front-row play, credited his growing proficiency at loose-head to the work he does with his club.

The specialist coach, Phil Keith-Roach, has worked with Sheridan a great deal, and the genial giant said: "We do a lot of live scrummaging at Sale, and that certainly helps with technique. We practise them every week and you cannot help but learn from those sessions."

What Sale learned from this efficient triumph is that French players under pressure from such a prop do not have as much appetite for the game as those who are on his side.

Sale's two Sébastiens, Bruno and Chabal, played like men possessed. The latter, an ogre of a man, black-bearded and as ferocious off the ball as on it, had an outstanding game. Bruno was not far behind him. They clattered into their fellow countrymen and threw them left, right and centre as they cleared a path for their English team-mates.

If they play in the same way in the various competitions at home and abroad next year, their opponents will have something to fear.

Sale: Tries Hodgson 2, Titterrell, Cueto; Conversions Hodgson 2; Penalty Hodgson. Pau: Penalty Beauxis.

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, J Baxendell, R Todd (C Rhys Jones, 75), B Foden; C Hodgson (M Hercus, 72), B Redpath (S Martens, 72); A Sheridan (Turner, 61), S Bruno, S Turner (B Stewart, h-t), D Schofield, I Fernandez-Lobbe (C Day, 75), C Jones (P Caillet, 75), A Titterrell (P Anglesea, 72), S Chabal.

Pau: J-M Souverbie; M Dourthe (J-B Peyras, 71), J-C Cistacq, J-E Cassin, N Martin (L Mercier, 46); L Beauxis, C Laussucq (F Cibray, 75); D Laperne, R Terrain (M Tincu, 46), D Boiroux (O Sourgens, 46), G Morgan, P Albacete, P Som (capt; Martin, 78), P Tabacco (V Forgues, 58), A Manta (P Furet, 32).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

* Daren O'Leary, appointed captain in his last game for Worcester, was unable to bow out on a high as his weakened side were well beaten by Auch in the final of the European Shield. Auch have been relegated from the French top flight, but they outmuscled the English side, beating them 23-10 at the Kassam Stadium after Sale's win. O'Leary scored a consolation try late in the game.

* The New South Wales Waratahs booked their place in next weekend's Super 12 final by beating South Africa's Bulls 23-12. The Australians came back from a seven-point deficit and will face the four-times champions, the Canterbury Crusaders, from New Zealand, who are in their seventh final in eight years.