Sale Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson was delighted as a gritty performance from his Sharks players saw them record an impressive 20-13 victory over Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol at Ashton Gate.

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The defeat ended Bristol’s winning run in the league of six matches as the hosts could not overcome the loss of attacking talents Semi Radradra, Harry Randall and Luke Morahan, and the last-minute absence of skipper Steven Luatua who damaged a calf in the warm-up did not help

Bryan Byrne scored their only try with Ioan Lloyd adding two penalties and a conversion.

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Sale full-back Luke James scored the decisive try three minutes from time with AJ MacGinty kicking five penalties.

Sanderson said: “It’s a big win for anyone down here with the way Bristol are playing. It’s massive for the boys as we will take confidence from the way we competed in the arm-wrestle in the final 20 minutes but it’s still early days.

“I’ll enjoy it but I’m not going to get carried away. A new team gets a spike in energy from a different voice. You see it in all sports but the true test will be in two months.”

South Africa’s Faf de Klerk was surprisingly replaced at scrum-half by Will Cliff in the 54th minute with the game firmly in the balance.

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Sanderson said: “I had to show faith in the boys and faith in the rotation system we are trying to use. What do we do when we don’t have Faf available? It was good to get a win against a team which could be around you. It could be an eight-point game not a four-point game but I’m not reading too much into it.”

Bristol Director of Rugby Pat Lam was disappointed that his side had not been able to carry out their game plan.

He said: “They did exactly what we expected them to do as we trained against that system all week.

“We knew they would be physical and slow our ball down at every opportunity but we gave away silly penalties and I’m disappointed that we couldn’t close the game out with only six minutes remaining.

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“You need to stay ahead of Sale for if you do so, you make them have to come out and play but we went from 7-0 nil up to 7-9 down.

“Losing Steven (Luatua) in the warm-up was a big loss as he would have given us more control but we couldn’t get the little technical things and detail quite right.”

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