Sale were only spasmodically at their scintillating best against a lively Castres side in this Heineken Cup fourth round Pool One match at Edgeley Park last evening but, when they were, the Sharks were sharper, more constructive and threatening than the Frenchmen who, if Munster beat Newport-Gwent Dragons at Thomond Park this afternoon, have no realistic hope of making the quarter-finals next March.
With Sébastien Chabal in rousing form, contributing two tries, and Charlie Hodgson at his imperious best, the only downside to unbeaten Sale's win was the loss of Mark Cueto with a nasty rib injury.
Sale are no strangers to Europe, they are the holders of the Challenge Cup, having won it twice, but they have never qualified for the knock-out stages of the senior competition. Having returned from the Stade Pierre Antoine last weekend with a 20-16 win under their belts, the Sharks gave themselves a chance of putting that record straight, enhanced when Castres decided to make changes after their third-round defeat. Sale surely have one foot in the quarters after this well-deserved victory.
Castres signaled their intention to make a decent fist of things. There were impressive skills from the full-back, Romain Teulet, who kicked the Frenchmen's only points of the first half with a penalty. The Castres front row gave it their best shot, until the hooker David Romieu was yellow carded as the whole of the Olympique pack went on red alert when Sale mounted a huge drive which took them 35 metres, deep into enemy territory. Once the scrum reformed Chabal burrowed over for the opening try. Hodgson, who had already collected three penalties, added the extras to make it 16-3 at the break.
Man-of-the-match Chabal made a valuable interception to gallop 70 metres for his second try, Mark Taylor made all the running for Jason Robinson's try, while Robert Todd burst down the left touchline to bring home a welcome bonus point, which could ultimately have a bearing on who wins the pool.
Sale: Tries Chabal 2, Robinson, Todd; Conversions Hodgson 3; Penalties Hodgson 3. Castres: Penalty Teulet.
Sale: D Larrechea; M Cueto (C Mayor, 14), M Taylor (R Todd, 57), E Seveali'i (B Coutts, 53), J Robinson (capt); C Hodgson, S Martens (V Courrent, 53); A Sheridan, S Bruno (A Titterrell, 64), S Turner (B Stewart, 64), C Jones, D Schofield (F Lobbe, 53), J White, M Lund, S Chabal.
Castres: R Teulet; L Milford, N Raffault, P Christophers, R Ropati; Y Delaigue, A Albouy (capt); Y Forestier, D Roumieu (R Vigneaux, 51), D Attoub (J Castex, 51), K Ghezal, F Capo Ortega, R Froment, G Bernad, G Taussac.
Referee: M Changleng (Scotland).
* Danny Grewcock was Bath's destroyer-in-chief as Glasgow's Cup dreams were shattered with a 29-10 defeat at Firhill. The giant lock marked his return to the line-up with a commanding display, along with a remarkable solo try. Four tries and the valuable bonus point extended Bath's lead in Group Five by eight points, edging them closer to a place in the quarter-finals and a sound chance of earning the tag of top seed.Reuse content