Sale won this enthralling contest in Pool One of the Heineken Cup at Edgeley Park last night, though they never subdued Munster completely, despite having an embarrassingly overwhelming forward advantage, which should have made the result a formality. But it was not until two minutes before the end of normal time and a spectacular chip-and-run try by Jason Robinson that Sale could be sure of victory.
Munster, obdurate and feisty until the death, can count themselves fortunate that this defeat was not by a considerably bigger margin, and they will know what to expect when these two meet again at Thomond Park in January. It promises to be some match, which could decide the Group.
Apart from an interesting contrast in style and approach work, this was a game between two clubs who have never met before, both having made impressive starts to the season. Munster are top of the Celtic League, while Sale sit proudly atop the Guinness Premiership.
But it is the Irishmen with the impressive Heineken pedigree. They have reached the knock-out stages seven times, have twice been losing finalists, while Sale have never been anywhere near that far in the competition. The best they have been able to offer is winning the European Challenge Cup twice. Could this be the Sharks' year?
They began and ended as if there was no doubt about it. There were 10,704 souls shoehorned into the old stadium - a record for a rugby match here - where the atmosphere was electric, and Sale were soon generating enough energy to light up a small town.
The first half was as engrossing as it was one sided, and yet Munster went in with a one-point lead. Munster must have been sick of the sight of their own 22 line, for they spent most of the first half behind it and broke out only three times; in two of these escapes they made it pay. On the third they probably thought they had struck gold.
Ronan O'Gara had missed with a drop at goal before slotting a penalty then, with five minutes left until the interval, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe was yellow carded in helping halt a Munster drive.
Within a minute Frankie Sheahan was shunted over the line, O'Gara converted, and all Sale had to show for their endless dominance was three penalties from Charlie Hodgson. Sale should have made more of their territorial advantage, but the referee refused resolutely to penalise Munster for killing the ball.
Although O'Gara struck again, soon after the break, Hodgson collected two more penalties to remind the watching England head coach, Andy Robinson of what he is capable. Sililo Martens stole over for a try, while Sheahan was in the bin, which took it to 19-13 before Robinson sealed it with his individual brilliance.
Sale: Tries: Martens, Robinson; Conversion: Hodgson; Penalties: Hodgson 5. Munster: Try: Sheahan; Conversion: O'Gara; Penalties: O'Gara 2.
Sale: Robinson, Cueto, Taylor, Seveali'i (Todd, 80), Hanley (Larrechea, 63), Hodgson, Martens (Courrent, 79), Sheridan, Titterrell (Bruno, 47), Turner (Stewart, 56), Lobbe (Schofield, 63), Jones (Day, 80), White, Lund, Chabal.
Munster: Payne, Kelly, B. Murphy, Connolly, Pitout, O'Gara, O'Leary (Stringer, 73), Horan, Sheahan (Flannery, 44), Hayes (Pucciariello, 73), O'Callaghan, O'Driscoll, Quinlan (Hogan, 47), Leamy (Wallace, 73), Foley.
Referee: Joel Jutge (France).
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