GLOUCESTER 29 SALE SHARKS 3
SOMETIMES the old adages ring true.
Excuse the cliché, but every now and then in sport, teams wind up reaping what they sow.
All the rancour and wretched fallout from Bryan Redpath’s bitter Gloucester departure came back to bite Sale on the backside at Kingsholm in this gritty, uncompromising clash.
Pantomime season started early for the crowd, booing Sale head coach Redpath when his face flashed up on the big screen, and offering mock sympathy to images of Danny Cipriani sat on the bench with ice on his knee.
But in the grit of battle, Gloucester ground on unfazed.
Boss Nigel Davies labelled this a ‘professional’ victory – but oh how sweet a result for the Cherry and Whites supporters, despite at times turgid fare.
While all around were dreaming of revenge, Gloucester’s power mongers worried only about destroying the Sale scrum, scavenging at the breakdown – and blasting big midfield craters.
Gloucester’s potent scrummage denuded the limp Sale set-piece, and that obliteration laid the platform.
Flawless Freddie Burns slotted five from five penalties in the first half, then Akapusi Qera pounded home for Gloucester’s first try just past the hour-mark.
A penalty try two minutes later was just reward for the all-powerful Gloucester scrum, that won at least half the home side’s staggering 21 penalties.
Burns eclipsed Cipriani, who just could not kick-start anything for the hapless visitors, leaving Gloucester’s rugby director Davies purring.
“This was a hugely professional performance, and the boys deserve huge credit for that,” he explained. “There were plenty of external issues around this game, all talked about at length outside the club.
“But we didn’t discuss any of that, and the players did not allow it to distract them.
“That’s not always an easy task, but we’re learning all the time how to put anything external out of our minds.”
When Sale saw off Gloucester at Kingsholm in April, the Cherry and Whites were disparate, disjointed and in distress.
Now they are a regimented unit, going about their business with a hard-nosed tunnel vision.
At the sharp end of all that is Burns, the Premiership’s leading points-scorer.
And Davies for one sees his eventual international elevation as inevitable.
“Freddie’s been in fantastic form, he’s maturing all the time,” continued Davies. “And if he keeps playing like that then it can only be a matter of time before the selectors take a look, they have to.”
Burns is sparkling, adding polish to his raw attacking game by the week.
At times in this clash he visibly decided the tempo needed raising, so went after the ball with relish, and delivered the necessary shifts.
But let us not forget another vital factor in Burns’ progress – Billy Twelvetrees.
Breakdown Billy is not just a monster at the tackle area, he breaks the line, offloads out of hand and blasts clearances half the field length.
Crucially though, he is a constant option for Burns, easing the burden on the out-half.
In the soaking rain, Gloucester were sensibility personified in the first half: direct attack after direct attack forced penalties, and Burns delivered the points.
With the half drawing to a close Burns chipped a kickable penalty cross-field, for Charlie Sharples to chase.
The England wing collected and evaded two tacklers, but could not quite catch the Sale defence by surprise.
That missed penalty chance allowed Sale a foothold, and Cipriani, Sam Tuitupou and Charlie Amesbury helped the visitors make an impression.
But every time they attacked, they produced a cheap error.
Cipriani slotted a penalty just before the break to offer hope’s glimmer.
But Gloucester wiped out the light after the turnaround.
Fijian bruiser Qera’s score capped a measured piece of approach play, Jimmy Cowan offering an inviting inside ball that the bulldozing flanker could not refuse.
No sooner had the try deadlock been breached than Gloucester doubled their five-pointer tally.
Sale’s impotent scrum disintegrated for the umpteenth time, five metres from their own line no less.
And referee Luke Pearce had no option but to trot under the posts for the penalty score.
Poise-perfect Burns landed his second conversion, taking his personal haul to 19 – and that was that.
Not a classic by any stretch, but Gloucester totally took the sting out of the Redpath situation.
Davies’ men are a robust, committed bunch – but more than that, they know how to win
That might sound facile, but it is the most prized commodity of all.
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Qera (63), Penalty (65). Cons: Burns 2 (63, 65). Pens: Burns 5 (5, 11, 20, 22, 25).
SALE SHARKS: Pens: Cipriani (38).
GLOUCESTER: Rob Cook, Charlie Sharples, Mike Tindall (Tim Molenaar, 78), Billy Twelvetrees, Shane Monahan, Freddie Burns, Jimmy Cowan (Dan Robson, 67), Dan Murphy (Nick Wood, 50), Huia Edmonds (Koree Britton, 50), Rupert Harden (Shaun Knight, 59), Will James, Jim Hamilton (capt) (Ross Moriarty, 76), Tom Savage, Akapusi Qera, Sione Kalamafoni (Matt Cox, 73). Unused: Martyn Thomas.
SALE SHARKS: Rob Miller, Charlie Amesbury, Will Addison (Cameron Shepherd, 78), Sam Tuitupou, Mark Cueto, Danny Cipriani (Nick Macleod, 64), Dwayne Peel (Will Cliff, 64), Ross Harrison (Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 55), Tommy Taylor (Joe Ward, 55), Tony Buckley (Vadim Cobilas, 55), Fraser McKenzie (James Gaskell, 62), Kearnan Myall, Richie Vernon, David Seymour (capt), Andy Powell. Unused: Tom Holmes.
REFEREE: Luke Pearce.