Lions set sail with a cruise

Hodgson, Cueto and Co head towards All Black country with a crushing victory against pallid Pau
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The Independent Online

Pau 3 Sale 27 (Half-time: 3-17 Attendance: 7,682)

Pau 3 Sale 27 (Half-time: 3-17 Attendance: 7,682)

Pau 3: Pen; Beauxis

Sale 27: Tries: Hodgson 2, Titterrell, Cueto, Cons: Hodgson 2 Pen: Hodgson

Sale had already qualified for next season's Heineken Cup, so they were playing here for the honour of receiving the European Challenge Cup. At the end of a final that was so one sided it was almost embarrassing, it may as well have read: Lions 27, Pau 3.

Sale's points were scored by three of their five tourists, who leave for New Zealand on Wednesday. All in all it was a most satisfactory end to the season for the upwardly mobile club and a heartening send-off for Charlie Hodgson, Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Andrew Sheridan and Andy Titterrell.

Hodgson scored two of Sale's four tries and Titterrell and Cueto got the others. Hodgson's goal-kicking was a mixed bag. He missed two conversions and two penalties, not that it mattered a jot. Pau were rubbish. Wearing green, they played like an assortment of vegetables.

"I'm feeling very confident," Hodgson said, "and hopefully I can give Clive Woodward some selection problems in New Zealand.

"All the talk is that the Lions' No 10 jersey is between Jonny Wilkinson and Stephen Jones, but maybe I can have something to say about that."

While Hodgson was rejoin-ing the Lions squad in Wales, Bryan Redpath, his half-back partner at Sale, was bidding a fond farewell to the club. Redpath, the former Scotland scrum-half, is retiring from rugby. He plays his final game for the Barbarians next week before undergoing a spinal fusion operation.

"I've seen the team develop and for me it has been a privilege to be part of Sale," Redpath said. "When I was in the changing room there was a little tear in the eye." When the celebrations began, Redpath was carried off on the shoulders of Dean Schofield and Sébastien Chabal, and he looked like a coconut balanced between two palm trees.

The Challenge Cup is the little brother of the Heineken. This is the one won by Harlequins last season, when they beat Montferrand 27-26. It enabled Quins to qualify for the senior European competition but it was only a diversion in their abortive attempt to avoid relegation.

"This was a wonderful end to the season for the club and the supporters," Philippe Saint-André, the Sale coach, said. "Winning the Challenge Cup was one of our targets and the players deserved it. Pau's strength is their scrum, line-out and drive, and we smashed them in the scrum."

Indeed, it was patently obvious from the opening set-pieces that at the saturated home of Oxford United, Pau were up the Isis without a coracle. When Sheridan forced the French scrum to collapse, winning a penalty in the process, Sale knew they had very little to worry about.

Hodgson soon had his side 10-0 in the lead, crossing for his first try after charging down a clearance kick. Robert Todd turned the ball over and Hodgson shot through a gap from 25 yards, evading Romain Terrain in the process. In fact you could say that Hodgson skipped over the terrain.

When Terrain, the Pau hooker, was guilty of applying a sneaky short-arm on Robinson, Hodgson found a good touch from the penalty and the result from the ensuing line-out was a textbook try. Capitalising on a marvellous service from Redpath, Hodgson was able to miss out Robinson and allow Cueto a yard of room on the right. Cueto had the strength to stay on his feet and was able to feed a scoring pass to Titterrell. How was Titterrell there so quickly? Selected on the Lions tour as a hooker, he was playing here as an openside flanker.

Pau had begun with a stand-off, Lionel Beauxis, who had very little but a big boot. Shortly after half-time, down 17-3, they brought on Ludovic Mercier, who has an even bigger boot. Not that it did them much good. Cueto seems incapable of playing without scoring, and sure enough he got his try in the 55th minute, after Hodgson's break. It was the right-wing's 28th of the season.

Try number four was scored by Hodgson, who rounded off a sustained passage of play by darting through Jean-Emmanuel Cassin.

As a precaution Sheridan, who had a slight ankle twinge, was replaced on the hour, but his reputation as a loosehead prop of Test-match potential marches on. "He's getting better and better," Saint-André said. "He's a very strong young man. He is fit enough to go the distance, which wasn't always the case last year."

It is not true that Sheridan spends his life either playing or working out in the gym where, apparently, he is a superhuman figure. He is two years into a bricklaying course. Is this serious building, he was asked. "It's not Lego," Sheridan replied.

Pau: J-M Souverbie; M Dourthe (JB Peyras, 75), J-C Cistacq, J-E Cassin, N Martin (L Mercier, 46); L Beauxis, C Laussucq (F Cibray, 75); D Laperne, R Terrain (M Tincu, 45), D Boiroux (O Sourgens, 46), G Morgan, P Albacete, P Som (capt), A Manta (P Furet, 30), P Tabacco (V Forgues, 55).

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, J Baxendell, R Todd (C Rhys Jones, 78), B Foden; C Hodgson (M Hercus, 72), B Redpath (S Martens, 72); A Sheridan (S Turner, 60), S Bruno, S Turner (B Stewart, 40), D Schofield, I Fernandez Lobbe (C Day, 72), C Jones (P Caillet, 72), S Chabal, A Titterrell (P Anglesea, 72).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).