Sale arrested their desperate mid-season slump with a comeback victory built on unshakeable will and admirable guts. Almost all the way through this match had been Gloucester's to win; that they lost it to a late, late penalty by the champions' fifth-choice goal-kicker will not ease the pain.
Richard Wigglesworth was Sale's unlikely hero, thumping over the decisive kick with just over a minute left after a daring attack by Sililo Martens and Jason Robinson drew Gloucester's backtracking forwards into falling offside on their 22. Wigglesworth had started at scrum-half but was switched to fly-half early in the second half as Sale's rotten luck with injuries continued.
To a list of around 15 casualties including the kickers Charlie Hodgson and Lee Thomas they last night added David Blair, who had made his first Premiership start for the club, and Daniel Larrechea. The resultant reshuffles made Sale's recovery from deficits of 13 points at half-time and nine with an hour gone all the more remarkable.
There was justice too, after Blair - who began by kicking one first-quarter penalty to three by Ryan Lamb - was forced off by an apparent knee to the ribs by James Forrester, the Gloucester No 8. "We must look at that on video," said Sale's director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André. Otherwise, he was a relieved man. "We've had a lot of bad luck in the last three weeks and the guys deserved this."
Gloucester, too, had struggled over Christmas and the new year, with one win in three, and both sides have tricky paths to tread if they are to make it into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals in the next fortnight. The visitors looked dangerous at the start, though, with quality line-out possession and Mike Tindall a forceful presence at centre.
Larrechea started at full-back to make room for Blair - the brother of the Scotland scrum-half Mike - but giving the Frenchman a little extra room at the back added up to a lot of trouble. After 37 minutes Sale won a line-out near halfway through Chris Jones and hoisted a high kick to the Gloucester full-back Olly Morgan, and the resulting counterattack led to the first try. Tindall feinted and fed Iain Balshaw, who hacked on towards the Sale line. Larrechea dithered, had a look over his shoulder, stumbled and fell to allow James Simpson-Daniel to score. Lamb converted and Gloucester led 16-3.
Not long before, as Blair crouched to collect a loose ball, he was clattered into by Forrester, the referee, Wayne Barnes, attending to a penalty at the same time against Gloucester's Marco Bortolami for diving through a ruck.
Sale roused themselves with a 54th-minute try, which Lamb will not look back on with pride. Sale drove the short side from a line-out then spun the ball into a midfield in which they were outnumbered. But Lamb shot out of the defensive line and Wigglesworth, in his new role at stand-off, judged his angles beautifully nicely to send Chris Bell through to the posts. Wigglesworth converted.
Lamb took out his frustration with a raised-fist gesture to the section of the Sale crowd who heckled him as he booted the penalty which made it 19-10 to Gloucester. But Sale battered away at the ruck to create a try for Sébastien Bruno converted by Wigglesworth, before the latter's winning whack.
Sale: D Larrechea (S Martens, 45); J Robinson (capt), M Taylor, C Bell, C Mayor; D Blair (B Foden, 38), R Wigglesworth; L Fauré (E Roberts, 73), A Titterrell (S Bruno, 63), B Stewart (S Turner, 48), C Jones, D Schofield (N Bonner-Evans, 60), J Fernandez Lobbe, S Chabal (C Day, 43), M Lund.
Gloucester: O Morgan; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall, A Allen, I Balshaw; R Lamb (W Walker, 67), R Lawson (P Richards, 53); N Wood (C Califano, 48), M Davies, C Nieto, M Bortolami (capt), A Brown, P Buxton (J Boer, 60), J Forrester, A Hazell (Wood, 55-62).
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content