Mercier delivers the perfect welcome to Melville

Gloucester 42 Sale 14
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The Independent Online

Whatever Gallic influences were exerted by the departed Philippe Saint-André while the Frenchman was director of rugby at Kingsholm, the fact remains that the single most determining factor in keeping Gloucester in Leicester's shadow at the top of the Premiership has been the strength of their pack.

While Saint-André was wont to cast his net farther than the Forest of Dean in his search for prime beef, not even the Tigers – the only side to win here this season – would take the Gloucester eight lightly, and Sale certainly harboured no illusions after their earlier meeting at Heywood Road, when they suffered their heaviest defeat of the campaign.

By half-time this had all the makings of being worse, as Phil Vickery and his cohorts embarrassed Sale at every scrum, ruck and maul. Sale's cause was undermined further when Chris Jones – who had replaced the injured Alex Sanderson – was yellow-carded for interfering at a ruck. While Jones was serving his time, Gloucester went from 13-9 to 27-9, adding tries from Andy Gomarsall and James Simpson-Daniel to an earlier touchdown by Junior Paramore, so all that remained was a bonus point.

That was duly collected when the outstanding James Forrester crossed to complete a sumptuous move, while replacement prop Federico Pucciariello garnered a fifth to hand new the director of rugby, Nigel Melville, the best possible start to his four-year contract.

Gloucester's stand-off, Ludovic Mercier, who had a hand in most things, contributed 17 points with the boot, converting four tries and slotting three penalties.

One almost felt sorry for Sale, who still hang on to third place in the table, but were without three back-row forwards, Stu Pinkerton, Apollo Perelini and Pete Anglesea, not to mention both their outside-halves, Charlie Hodgson and Jos Baxendell. Pressed into service in the unfamiliar No 10 jersey, Vaughan Going scored all Sale's points with a second-half try and three penalties.

Despite this defeat, Sale will be comforted by the knowledge that five of their remaining seven Premiership games are at home. However, if they are to achieve their ambition of a Heineken Cup place next season, Sale will need to strengthen their squad, especially up front, or more disappointments will follow. For Melville, however, the picture is altogether brighter.

Gloucester: D O'Leary; D Albanese, H Paul, R Todd, T Fanolua (J Simpson-Daniel, 22); L Mercier, A Gomarsall (D Yachvili, 46); P Collazo (T Woodman, h-t), O Azam (C Fortey, 73), P Vickery (capt; F Pucciariello, 65), R Fidler (E Pearce. 73), M Cornwell, J Boer, J Forrester, J Paramore.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, M Shaw, M Deane, S Hanley (A Elliott, 60); V Going, B Redpath (capt, A Dickens, 60); K Yates, C Marais (A Titterrell, 64), A Black (S Turner, h-t), I Fullarton, M Giacheri, S Lines, R Wilks, A Sanderson (P Davies 17-24; C Jones, 35).

Referee: J Barnard (Driffield).