Sale may have made their target a place in next season's Heineken Cup but, until Steve Hanley scored the second of his two tries, mid-way through the second half they were drifting aimlessly towards defeat in this re-arranged Parker Pen European Shield pool four match at Heywood Road.
The catalyst for Sale's resurgence was the arrival of Apollo Perelini, who replaced the ineffectual Richard Wilks. Perelini's strong burst opened up the Narbonne defence for Hanley's pace and power to do the rest. Late tries by Anthony Elliott and Martin Shaw completed an emphatic victory which leaves Sale unbeaten and on target to claim home advantage in the quarter-finals later in the month.
In previous seasons, the Shield has been dominated by French clubs, though the corner was turned for England when Harlequins lifted the trophy last spring by beating Narbonne. This season the English clubs have really been making their presence felt. And, though it will not be confirmed until the final round of pool matches has been played this weekend, as many as six English clubs will expect to make the quarter-finals, four of them with home advantage.
Sale, if they pile on some tries against Roma on Saturday, ought to receive Pau, who have already qualified. Last night Sale were lacking the firepower of Mark Cueto, who is in Argentina with the England Sevens squad, and Jason Robinson, who is only eligible for the knock-out stages onwards, and was soon in arrears when Cédric Rosalen's cross-kick took a wicked bounce, deceived Hanley, for David Douy to claim the opening try. Rosalen converted, though two penalties by Charlie Hodgson kept Sale in touch.
Anxious to play some distance away from the Narbonne pack, with their monster front row and fiery flankers, Sale moved the ball at every opportunity. It worked a treat for Hanley, who brushed aside the full-back, Pascal Bazini, to cross in the corner. But there is more to Bazini than first met the eye. When Rosalen's penalty attempt twisted wide, Bazini gathered Vaughan Going's clearance on halfway and dropped a terrific goal. Two penalties by Rosalen enabled Narbonne to take a 16-13 lead at half-time.
Having lost their way somewhat in the second quarter, Sale needed to reassert themselves quickly. Hodgson's third penalty tied the scores, though it did no more for Sale's confidence than it did for their tactical awareness. Perilini's arrival changed all that.
Sale: Tries Hanley 2, Elliott, Shaw. Conversions Hodgson 3. Penalties Hodgson 5. Narbonne: Tries Douy. Conversion Rosalen. Penalties Rosalen 2. Drop goal Bazini.
Sale: V Going; A Elliott (S Davidson, 74), M Shaw, M Deane, S Hanley; C Hodgson (J Baxendell, 80), A Dickens (J Bramhall, 82); K Yates, A Titterrell, A Black, I Fullarton, M Giacheri, S Lines (C Jones, 76), R Wilks (A Perelini, 56), S Pinkerton (capt).
Narbonne: P Bazini; A Joubert (L Subra, 4), D Douy (V Sabardeil, 62), J-M Moraitis, G Tutard; C Rosalen (G Quesada, 62), A Bonhoure, J-B Poux, M Ledesma (capt, S Petit, 62), M Bigou, C Gaston (M Raynaud, 19-22), S Moore, P Furet, C Mathieu (Raynaud, 62) A Hill.
Referee: P Adams (Wales).
* Overmach Parma are refusing to travel for today's re-arranged Parker Pen Shield tie with Pontypridd at Gloucester's Kingsholm. After the original tie, scheduled for Sunday in Italy, was postponed twice due to a frozen pitch, the competition's governing body European Rugby Cup announced that the Pool C was to be switched to Gloucester. Parma claim it is their responsibility to decide on an alternate venue and they are refusing to travel to England, citing unfair treatment and a lack of time for preparation.Reuse content