Sale defeat leaders Bristol to secure Premiership play-off spot
Sale secured their Gallagher Premiership play-off place and kept their hopes of a home semi-final alive after impressively overcoming league leaders Bristol 22-12 at the AJ Bell Stadium.
In front of Sale’s first home crowd since March 2020, nothing separated the sides in the opening half as the match remained scoreless at the break.
Bristol took the lead though a brilliant 45th-minute try from Ben Earl, but that only served to inspire the hosts.
The Sharks dominated the rest of the match, crossing the whitewash via the Du Preez brothers, Dan and Rob, and hooker Curtis Langdon to secure an excellent win, despite Ioan Lloyd’s late response for Pat Lam’s men.
It was an intense, physical and abrasive contest with Sale doing much of the tackling in the early stages.
They were not helped by their own ill-discipline – a constant issue this season – which allowed the Bears to win successive penalties and put pressure inside the opposition 22.
That led to another infringement by the Sharks, this time in front of the posts, but Bristol, with their play-off place already assured, wanted to lay down a marker.
They went to the corner looking to use their lineout drive – an underrated facet of Bristol’s armoury – but Sale held out once again.
It enabled Alex Sanderson’s men to get back into the contest and into the Bears half, but they found a similarly stubborn rearguard.
The Sharks did create their best chance of the match when Luke James went surging down the right, but the visitors defended well and the first half finished 0-0.
However, it did not remain that way for long and the deadlock was broken in typically brilliant fashion by the Bears in the second period.
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Max Malins started the move, drawing in the defence and sending Semi Radradra away, who fended off Faf de Klerk’s tackle with ease. After that, it was all about the support and the Fijian had it in the form of Charles Piutau, who took his pass and sent Earl across the whitewash.
The Sharks were struggling to find their rhythm, making a series of errors which allowed Bristol to defend their line relatively comfortably, but Sanderson introduced the replacements and they made a difference.
One of those to come on – lively scrum-half Raffi Quirke – was the spark, scything through the heart of the visiting defence.
Quirke stepped out of a number tackles until he was met by Radradra. However, it was an illegal high shot from the centre and he was duly banished to the sidelines for 10 minutes.
With the Bears down to 14 men, Sale took advantage and immediately levelled matters through Dan du Preez’s close-range surge.
It was to get even better for the hosts as AJ MacGinty’s superb cross-field kick was collected by Byron McGuigan and Rob du Preez was on hand to touch down, despite the final pass from McGuigan looking suspiciously forward.
The Television Match Official gave it the green light, though, and they built on that score to go over for a third time via Langdon.
Lloyd did cross for Bristol, but MacGinty’s late penalty meant that Sale had secured their place in the top four and also completed the double over the league leaders.
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