Sale pack provides enough steam to keep unbeaten record

Leeds 11 Sale 14
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The Independent Online

Sale maintained the only unbeaten Premiership record, with a patchy performance at Headingley yesterday, to move back to the top of the table.

Sale maintained the only unbeaten Premiership record, with a patchy performance at Headingley yesterday, to move back to the top of the table. But it was close, very close and Leeds, who have suffered six consecutive home losses, would almost certainly have settled for a draw, rather than the bonus point they received for losing by fewer than seven.

At the end, Leeds were clinging on as Sale threw the kitchen sink at them in a desperate bid to get some clear water between the two sides, neither of whom produced rugby of any real fluency. Nothing came of Sale's late power surge in terms of a score that would have put the game beyond the reach of Phil Davies's team, though afterwards Davies was not as downbeat as he could have been.

"At times we were over-cautious," said Davies. "Last week we were on a high after our win at Saracens, but today it's a low. We know that Sale have got a lot of good players in their team, but our use of the ball wasn't as good as we were without the ball in hand." Davies's honest verdict was echoed by the Sale captain, Jason Robinson.

"When I heard the final whistle, I felt disappointed," said Robinson, who had few opportunities to display the full gamut of his attacking skills. "That was partly because of Leeds, but we didn't keep hold of the ball and made too many mistakes, but we got the points and that is important. We got the league points in what was an extremely tight match, so we're happy about that, but we know we can play a lot better than that."

To be fair to Leeds, they denied Sale the space they thrive on and little was seen of their twin strike-force, Mark Cueto and Steve Hanley. And when Chris Bell scored the Leeds try - his first for the club since moving from Harlequins and only the sixth of their campaign - to bring the scores level, there was just the hint of an upset, enough to keep the Tykes' faithful on the edge of their seats.

Leeds escaped late-on when Diego Albanese failed to clear Charlie Hodgson's speculative kick into no-man's land and Tim Stimpson was gang-tackled under the crossbar.

Sale were never headed after a storming start, with the whole of their pack driving Leeds backwards for 22 metres for Andy Titterrell to claim the try. Two penalties each by Gordon Ross and Hodgson brought up half-time at 11-6. But ultimately, Bell's try was insufficient, and Hodgson settled matters with a smart dropped goal.

Leeds: Try Bell; Penalties Ross 2. Sale: Try Titterrell; Penalties Hodgson 2; Drop goal Hodgson.

Leeds: D Albanese; D Rees, C Bell, A Snyman, T Biggs (T Stimpson, h-t); G Ross, A Dickens; M Shelley, M Regan (R Rawlinson, 11), G Kerr (M Holt, 69), S Hooper, C Murphy (capt), J Dunbar (P Uys, 60), R Parks, C Rigney.

Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Rhys Jones, R Todd, S Hanley; C Hodgson, S Martens (B Redpath, h-t); A Sheridan, A Titterrell, B Stewart (S Turner, 42), C Day (D Schofield, 74), J White (S Bruno, 71), C Jones, M Lund, S Chabal.

Referee: S Lander (Warrington).

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