Robinson's thirst for the spectacular

Sale 32 Leeds

Hugh Godwin@HughGodwin_
Sunday 16 March 2003 01:00

Two twists of genius from Jason Robinson established Sale as the Premiership's undisputed cocks of the north, and sealed his return to the England team into the bargain.

Robinson missed last week's Twickenham win over Italy with a knee strain, but a coruscating pair of run-ins in the second half surely rubber-stamped his comeback against Scotland for Saturday's Calcutta Cup match, the only question being in which position. Here Robinson did the damage from full-back, but anywhere in the back three may do for Clive Woodward, the England coach, who will receive a glowing report back from his national academy director, Brian Ashton.

The first half ended with the score deadlocked at 13-all, but within 36 seconds of the restart, Robinson stood up Tristan Davies in inimitable fashion, then deftly chipped over Dan Scarbrough and won the race to the touchdown with a well-placed nudge in the ribs of the retreating Leeds full-back.

Sale secured their seventh try-scoring bonus point of the season with Dan Harris's score in the 54th minute, and ended all threat to their unbeaten home record in the Premiership when Robinson left the Leeds backline flapping like bed- sheets strung out on a clothes line with a 45-metre finish eight minutes from time. So Sale moved to within two points of the leaders Gloucester, and 14 clear of fourth place, the cut-off mark for the end-of-season title play-off.

It had been five weeks since both sides' last competitive fixture and a rumbustuous encounter might have had more cards than the single yellow shown to Chris Jones for preventing release of the ball midway through the first half. At that stage, Sale led 8-3 through a penalty from Jos Baxendell and a 13th minute try by hooker Andy Titterrell. Baxendell's goal-kicking in the absence of Charlie Hodgson – who cut a sad figure on crutches at pitchside – ranged from the gutsy to the laughable, but his control from fly-half was skilled and varied.

Baxendell's high cross-kick was tidily caught by George Harder but the Samoan, making his first appearance since mid-November, was robbed in the maul, and Baxendell arrived to loop round Isaac Feaunati and feed Titterrell via a link from Robinson.

In Jones's absence, Leeds added to a Braam van Straaten penalty with a try by Feaunati, but the same two players found their ball-carrying charges well met by stern Sale resistance. The first half came to a rattling conclusion with a try for each side. Steve Hanley, the country's top scorer, took his total to 13 by finishing off a neat break by Graeme Bond for Sale, and Cameron Mather, for Leeds, scored from a line-out drive.

Once Robinson had taken a hand, however, Sale never looked back. Dean Schofield recovered his poise after taking an elbow from his opposite number Chris Murphy and won a line-out to set Sale up in midfield, Harris bundling through after Baxendell and Mark Cueto had created the gap.

Leeds's outstanding season has stalled a little with a defeat by Newcastle and now this, but at least they had the last word, when Winston Stanley got a try which Van Straaten converted.

Sale: J Robinson; M Cueto, D Harris (V Going, 71), G Bond, S Hanley; J Baxendell (N Walshe, 74), B Redpath (capt); K Yates (J Thorp, 71), A Titterrell (C Marais, 74), B Stewart (S Turner, h-t), C Jones, D Schofield (I Fullarton, 62), A Sanderson, P Anglesea (P Davies, 62), S Pinkerton.

Leeds: D Scarbrough; G Harder, T Davies (W Stanley, 62), B van Straaten, D Albanese; G Ross, A Dickens (D Hegarty, h-t); M Shelley (capt; M Holt, 66), M Regan (R Rawlinson, 66), G Kerr, C Murphy, T Palmer (S Campbell, 66), C Mather, I Feaunati (C Hogg, 66), A Popham.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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