Sale celebrate courtesy of Mercier's miss

Gloucester 27 Sale 28
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The Independent Online

The name of Ludovic Mercier was the reluctant toast of south Manchester last night.

The champagne kicker missed a sitter of a second-half stoppage time penalty which would have won this see-saw semi-final of the second-tier European cup series, the Parker Pen Shield.

Mercier could hardly believe it when, off his left foot, just to the right of centre on the 22, and the tricky wind in his favour, he punched one which lived up so beautifully to the name of the little snug bar just over the fence, the Crooked Hooker. It was one on which, said Nigel Melville, his new coach for whom he has just signed a new contract, you would have bet your mortgage. Ludo was in tears afterwards, but Melville refused to lay the blame for defeat on that one kick.

It was, he suggested, a contest of power versus pace and, in the end, the pace of Sale Sharks had prevailed. Well, maybe. His opposite number, Jim Mallinder, noted that, having been carved up twice by Gloucester in the league this season, they were ready for them.

While he paid tribute to the "massive" contribution made by the tight five, it was that old warhorse Peter Anglesea who was man of the match. The prodigious amount of work he did was matched in kind, if not in honours, by Alex Sanderson and Stuart Pinkerton either side of him in the back row.

It was Anglesea, too, who was a thundering part of the assist to Charl Marais' try just under three minutes into the second half. The South African goes into the 26 May final at Oxford against Pontypridd having in his earlier southern hemisphere season been in the winning side, Western Province, which lifted the Currie Cup at Newlands. That day he helped beat a side which carries the shark name, Natal.

Gloucester ran out determined to ram such a huge chunk of West Country beef down Sale's throat that they would be given no chance to pick off bits. Terry Fanuloa bullocked his way over in under 140 seconds to draw first blood. Mercier converted on his way to a complete set of penalty and drop goal as well in the first 20 minutes as Gloucester raced to a 13-0 lead.

But if Sale had been slow starters, they were still determined to give Gloucester a roasting. In the next 40 minutes, after an opening penalty from Charlie Hodgson, two tries on the left wing, first from Mark Cueto out of territory and then from Steve Hanley, claiming his own, squared things at half time. Then came Marais, followed by Dan Harris and Sale were 12 points clear.

The beef mountain regrouped, despite another Hodgson penalty, the remarkable James Forrester crowning another good afternoon's work with a try and Fanolua providing the mustard off the back of a drive for his second. They were attacking again when they conceded a penalty, which was immediately reversed as referee Nigel Whitehouse spotted substitute Adam Black stamping. Surely a chance for European glory was restored, even if for the usual baying fans that territory starts at the Gloucester ring road. The answer came quickly. Non.

Gloucester: Tries Fanolua (2), Forrester; Conversions Mercier (3); Penalty Mercier; drop goal Mercier. Sale: Tries Cueto, Hanley, Marais, Harris; Conversions Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson (2).

Gloucester: C Catling (H Paul, 73); D O'Leary (D Albanese, 40), T Fanolua, R Todd, J Simpson-Daniel; L Mercier, A Gomarsall; T Woodman (P Collazo, 51), O Azam (C Fortey, 73), P Vickery (capt), M Cornwell, E Pearce (R Fidler, 51), J Forrester, K Sewabu (J Boer, 51), J Paramore.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, M Shaw, D Harris (M DEane, 76), S Hanley; C Hodgson, B Redpath (capt); K Yates, C Marais, S Turner (A Black, 68, I Fullarton, C Jones, A Sanderson (R Wilks, 61), S Pinkerton, P Anglesea.

Referee: N Whitehouse (WRU).