Sale 29 Leeds 3: Hodgson masterminds Leeds' destruction

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The Independent Online

Leeds offered so little resistance against Sale at Edgeley Park last night that they were fortunate to acquire their three points from a second-half penalty. Sale outplayed them in all departments, and, though unable to score a bonus point, were worthy of their try in each half. Both were converted by Charlie Hodgson who also kicked five penalties for Sale, in his 100th Premiership game, to amass 19 points.

Leeds were first to make an impression but Alberto di Bernardo, the outside-half, missed the chance to score with a short-range penalty, missing by some distance. Auguries were better for Sale, even though, with Andrew Sheridan out because of a troublesome foot and Jason White out because of a damaged knee, their pack were not expected to dominate. Dominate they did, however, andHodgson was in the groove from the start, kicking two penalties with metronomic certainty.

Leeds were struggling to match the pace and style of Sale and it was no surprise when the home team increased their lead when Hodgson, having waited several minutes while Joe Bedford was carried off to be replaced by James Brooks, scored another penalty to make it nine points without reply.

That was merely the prelude to a Sale try, scored by Luke McAlister after a searing 45-metre break. Hodgson converted and Leeds' task, even at such an early stage, was ominous. Indeed, apart from the opening five minutes, the game had been played almost exclusively in the Leeds' half. The visitors offered no ideas, no assurance in possible, and no creativity, and Sale were superior in every department. Viliami Ma'asi and Erik Lund were occasionally prominent for Leeds but Sale, oozing confidence, bottled them up to lead 16-0 at half-time.

After the break, Tom Biggs was replaced by Andy Tuilagi, while there were several replacements to the Leeds pack. Di Bernardo stroked over a penalty, though Hodgson landed two more to make it 22-3. Leeds showed more aggression in the second half but Sale, unruffled, remained in control. Still, Sale were drawn into a series of rucks and mauls until Adam Balding was sin-binned for a high tackle on Richard Wigglesworth.

From the first scrum thereafter, Chris Bell scored a try, which Hodgson – inevitably – converted. At 29-3, the contest was effectively over, but there was just time for Sale to mount more pressure at the posts. Dean Schofield, Stuart Turner and Brent Cockbain did their best, but to no avail.

Sale: Tries McAlister, Bell; Penalties Hodgson 5; Conversions Hodgson 2; Leeds: Penalty Di Bernado.

Sale: M Cueto; C Mayor (J Laharrague 44), L McAlister, L Thomas (C Bell 51), O Ripol; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (W Cliff 72); L Faure (M Halsall 72), S Bruno (N Briggs 64), S Turner, D Schofield (Captain), B Cockbain, S Cox, M Lund (J M Fernandez-Lobbe 49), S Chabal (N Bonner-Evans 72).

Leeds: L Hinton; J Holtby, J Hepworth, L Blackett (R Vickerman 66), T Biggs (A Tuilagi h-t); A Di Bernardo, J Bedford (capt) (J Brooks 18); M MacDonald, V Ma'asi (J Parkes 66), T McGee (M Cusack 52), E Lund, P Bouza (K Myall 52), J Dunbar, C Clark, R Oakley (A Balding h-t).

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).