Lights, camera, action! Jason Robinson was all too aware that yesterday's match was live on BBC Grandstand, pointing out that Sale had a "great opportunity to spread the word on terrestrial television". Billy Whizz took his cue, scoring a vintage try nine minutes from time. England have missed his dancing feet.
Taking a ball on the bounce on the right flank, Robinson was well covered but he went through his entire bag of tricks - high jinks, change of pace and bewildering change of direction - to beat four defenders on a patch of turf not much bigger than a blanket. He'd be a natural for Strictly Come Dancing. This was quite remarkable considering that Robinson had taken a nasty kick to the head midway through the first half and was very unsteady on his feet. It was all the more galling because the boot had come not from a Llanelli player but the Sale flanker Magnus Lund.
"It was a fantastic try," Philippe Saint André, the Sale coach, said. "He's a winner. He's our leader and I'm glad he's on our side." Robinson's try killed off Llanelli, who were without most of their internationals and put Sale in the semi-finals of the EDF Energy Cup. Sale go into today's draw with Leicester, Cardiff and the Ospreys, and it could be a nice little earner for Sale in a double-header at the Millennium Stadium in March. They needed a respite from the shower of harpoons that fell their way during the autumn Tests.
The Sharks have been so down on their luck that had they been playing strip poker instead of rugby they could have formed a nudist colony. They lost Charlie Hodgson, Andy Sheridan and Jason White, almost certainly for the season, to serious leg injuries. To lose one key performer would be unfortunate; to lose three suggests that they have upset a witch doctor.
Elvis Seveali'i is in rehab after damaging his shoulder playing for the Pacific Islanders against Ireland, Mark Taylor is also crocked and the prop Ben Evans has picked up a three-week ban. This is when fringe players come into their own and this competition provides an opportunity to test the depth of a squad.
The Anglo-Welsh addition to an already crowded party is lower on the guest list than a bouncer, although not everybody looks at it that way. "We see the EDF Cup as an essential part of the development of our game," Niels de Vos, the Sharks chief executive, said. "Not only is it an excellent tournament, it provides a terrestrial TV platform which is vital to the long-term aspirations of rugby in England."
And Wales? Aficionados of Llanelli would not have been too surprised by the result here. One glance at the team sheet would have told them that this was a lighter shade of Scarlet on duty.
"A lot of these players have done well for us in the Magners League and they deserved their chance," Phil Davies, the Scarlets coach, said. "It's a long season and it's all about managing the big picture. We're disappointed because we didn't play well." Yes, Phil, but you won't exactly be drowning your sorrows on the coach home? He kept a straight face when he replied: "You can't get much bigger than a cup match against the English champions."
Well, you can. It's called the Heineken Cup and next weekend you'll see Llanelli in their full warpaint when they tackle Toulouse. Still, somebody's got to have the power to lift the EDF Energy Cup which has a Twickenham final and a minimum £100,000 to the winners. Sale were sorely missing Hodgson yesterday as Daniel Larrechea, normally a full-back, deputised at stand-off and could hardly put a foot right. His tactical kicking was poor, his goalkicking even worse and as early as the 20th minute he had missed four out of four including the conversion of a try by Sililo Martens who went over from the blind side of a scrum after a brilliant feed by Sebastien Chabal.
That was just after Iestyn Thomas had been sent to the sin-bin but it looked as if the Sale curse had struck again when Stuart Turner, charging the wrong side of a maul, got a yellow card. Then the Scarlets pack drove over, with Thomas, fresh from 10 minutes in the cooler, getting the try. Almost everything at Edgeley Park is sponsored, including the sin-bin, by a Manchester mortgage company. Strangeways would have been a better choice.
Before Robinson's grandstand finish, Sale discovered that in Lee Thomas they had a far better goalkicker and he proceeded to land four out of four with three beautifully struck penalties and the conversion of his captain's try. Llanelli knew all about Thomas, who signed for Sale from Cardiff. Before that he was Neil Jenkins's sand boy, providing the tees for Wales's record points scorer.
Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Mayor (S Hanley, 76), L Thomas, B Foden; D Larrechea, S Martens (R Wigglesworth, 58); E Roberts (B Stewart, 40), A Titterrell (S Bruno, 48), S Turner, D Schofield (I Fernandez Lobbe, 57), C Day (C Jones, 40), J M Fernandez Lobbe, S Chabal (N Bonner-Evans, 63), M Lund.
Llanelli Scarlets: B Davies; D James (L Davies, 72), R King, Gavin Evans, Garan Evans; C Thomas, C Stuart-Smith; I Thomas, A Gravelle (K Owen, 74), D Manu (J Davies, 54), V Cooper, S McLeod (A Jones, 54), D Jones, N Thomas, J Bater (capt; G Thomas, 53).
Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).Reuse content