Leslie ruins Sale's start

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The Independent Online

Glenn Ross's Sale are back to earth after their cloudless start to his first season in charge at Heywood Road. "It was hardly the perfect ending for us," said Ross. "There is no way we should have collapsed like we did when we were 13-10 in front with only 10 minutes left on the clock."

Glenn Ross's Sale are back to earth after their cloudless start to his first season in charge at Heywood Road. "It was hardly the perfect ending for us," said Ross. "There is no way we should have collapsed like we did when we were 13-10 in front with only 10 minutes left on the clock."

But collapse Sale did in the face of a closing onslaught by Newcastle, who had scored the only try of the first half when John Leslie strode unopposed to the posts after the home defence went walkabout. Jonny Wilkinson converted and added two penalties, against two by Niki Little.

Sale were given a massive boost soon after the restart when Adam Black stole across for a soft try to give the home side the lead. Little converted to hand Sale a three-point lead. It was a further 28 minutes before Wilkinson tied the scores. From there Sale lost their concentration and their defensive shape to allow Hugh Vyvyan and Leslie to cross for tries in the dying minutes in what until then had been an unmemorable contest.

The row over Rob Andrew's condemnation over what he saw as Leicester's cynical killing of the ball in the champion's narrow victory at Kingston Park last Sunday has raged on all week. While teams play on the brink of illegality it is unlikely to go away. Most accept that the game is done no favours by weak refereeing. Equally there are some referees who are prepared to use the sanction of the sin-bin more readily than others.

John Barnard might have had an eye on the newspapers this week, and another on the fact that Colin High, the Rugby Football Union's senior referees appointments official, was the assessor for this game. With his first blow of the whistle Barnard penalised Sale for killing the ball, and his second was to adjudge two Newcastle players guilty of crossing as they made for the home posts.

Barnard was also alert enough to spot that the Sale hooker, Joe Clark, perpetrated a trip, allowing Jonny Wilkinson to enact full retribution with his opening penalty. Before the half was finished Peter Anglesea and Andrew Mower were yellow-carded for fighting.

Even at this early stage, we were treated to a sharp contrast in styles. Sale with two wins under their belt are bigger almost everywhere than Newcastle, and although they are led splendidly by 20-year-old Alex Sanderson, they neither have the Falcons' youth, nor their ability to create.

The turning point came when Rob Appleyard was sin-binned for punching at the end of the third quarter with the score accurately reflecting the balance of the game at 13-10 to Sale. Although Newcastle were not immediately able to capitalise on their numerical superiority, they eventually regained the momentum of the first 30 minutes and strode away purposefully to an emphatic victory.

Sale: V Going; M Moore (S Davidson14), M Shaw, M Deane (D Harris 63), S Hanley; N Little, B Redpath; A Black(P Winstanley 71), J Clark (N Rusk 51), J Thiel, G Manson-Bishop (S Lines 69), A Whittle, P Anglesea, R Appleyard (A Morris 69), A Sanderson (Capt ).

Newcastle: M Stephenson; L Botham, T May (J Noon H-T), J Leslie, V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter (I Peel 23), S Grimes, D Weir (Capt, H Vyvyan 69), R Arnold (R Beattie H-T), A Mower, J Jenner.

Referee: J Barnard (Driffield).

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