Sale's power too much for Bristol

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The Independent Online

Much of the talk in Bristol rugby circles is about the unthinkable: that is to say, the possibility of the age-old club leaving its once stately, now atmosphere-free, home at the Memorial Ground and moving to pastures new. The debate, prompted by widespread dissatisfaction with Bristol Rovers' football-driven stewardship of the bricks and mortar, is hardly a happy one, but it at least stops the local die-hards concentrating on the unwatchable, a description that accurately describes their team.

Much of the talk in Bristol rugby circles is about the unthinkable: that is to say, the possibility of the age-old club leaving its once stately, now atmosphere-free, home at the Memorial Ground and moving to pastures new. The debate, prompted by widespread dissatisfaction with Bristol Rovers' football-driven stewardship of the bricks and mortar, is hardly a happy one, but it at least stops the local die-hards concentrating on the unwatchable, a description that accurately describes their team.

Dean Ryan's outfit languished on the bad side of desperate last night; had it not been for their heavyweight scrummaging, there would have been nothing to recommend them at all. Ellery Hanley, not exactly the embodiment of a good loser, spent the evening tearing at his shaven pate at the sight of his charges missing tackles by the truckload - as defensive coach, that particular buck stops at his door. Similarly, Mark Tainton, the new backs' coach, was not exactly performing cartwheels at the barren contribution of a misfiring midfield.

Sale, of course, were more than happy to do their rather more imaginative thing, confident that they had only to make their own tackles to win. Given that they fielded a genuine big-hit merchant in Alex Sanderson and a couple of locks athletic enough to make meaningful contact in all areas of the field, the nitty-gritty was duly performed and they comfortably completed a full hand of early-season victories over West Country opposition.

The writing was on the wall for all to see in the opening quarter. Ten minutes in, the Fijian stand-off Niki Little drew handsome dividends from some powder-puff Bristol defence and ploughed over to the right of the posts. By contrast, the home side were wholly unable to find a route into the Sale 22; indeed, their only foothold in threatening territory came as a direct result of some lethargic tidy-up work from Steve Hanley, who needlessly put a foot in touch and gave Ryan and company a first attacking line-out. Barry Williams was held up after a trademark drive from the heavy mob, but Jamie Mayer used the position to break the Sale midfield and level it at a converted try apiece.

Little, aided and abetted by his hungry colleagues in the back row, was asking the real questions, however. He chipped over a brace of penalties before the interval, then swapped three-pointers with Gareth Bowen early in the second half to keep the advantage healthy. When Bristol, not for the first time, spilled the ball at close quarters and gave Hanley a sniff of a rampage down the left touchline, it was a case of "thank you and goodnight".

Hanley, all muscle and sinew, is not the quickest thing on two legs, but he was far too zippy for the covering Ryan. Little converted to open up a 13-point lead, and then claimed a fifth penalty. Steve Davidson's injury-time try was rather less than crucial.

There is something about Sale that holds out real hope; certainly, victories over Bath, Gloucester and now Bristol, two of them on the road, is more than they could reasonably have asked of themselves before the off. Bristol made it easy for them, though. Tougher tasks lie in wait.

Bristol: Try Mayer; Conversion Bowen; Penalties: Bowen 2. Sale: Tries Little, Hanley, Davidson; Conversions Little 3; Penalties Little 5.

Bristol: D Dewdney; D Rees, E Simone, J Mayer, L Nabaro; G Bowen (G Baber, 64), A Pichot (capt); P Johnstone, B Williams, K Fullman (L Gerrard, 58), A Brown, D Ryan (A Sheridan, 62), S Fenn (J Brownrigg H-T), A Vander, B Sturnham.

Sale: J Mallinder; S Davidson, J Baxendell, D Harris, S Hanley; N Little, B Redpath; P Winstanley (A Black, 60), N Rusk (B Jackman, 60), J Thiel, G Manson-Bishop, S Lines, P Anglesea, A Morris (R Wilkes, 83), A Sanderson (capt, R Appleyard, 62).

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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