Aviva Premiership: Sale Sharks see off Gloucester on home soil
Last Updated: 07/02/14 11:35pm
Sale Sharks have moved to within touching distance of the Aviva Premiership play-offs following a 24-19 success over Gloucester at the AJ Bell Stadium.
An excellent first half, in which both teams looked to move the ball wide, saw Sale take a 17-10 lead through two tries from Rob Miller and another from Dan Braid.
The Cherry and Whites responded with two scores of their own before the break thanks to Martyn Thomas and Charlie Sharples, but they could not prevent an impressive Sharks side from registering their seventh domestic success.
Braid's second touchdown, which sealed the bonus point, effectively took the game out of Gloucester's reach, although three Freddie Burns' penalties gave them a losing bonus point.
The visitors have endured a torrid campaign having secured just four Premiership wins all season, but they went into this game in confident mood following victories in both the Heineken Cup and the LV=Cup.
Nigel Davies' men were immediately on the front foot from the kick-off. Rob Cook made a break in midfield before the ball was taken on by Jimmy Cowan whose grubber through was superbly collected and finished by Thomas.
Burns missed a difficult conversion from out wide but it was the ideal start for a team that had ambitions of a play-off finish back in the summer.
However, that lead was only brief as the Sharks hit back in the 10th minute. Sam Tuitupou made the initial inroads into the Gloucester rearguard and good work from James Gaskell took the hosts to within touching distance of the line.
Sale went through a couple more phases before a well-timed Danny Cipriani pass sent Miller across the whitewash.
That combination between the stand-off and the full-back was to prove fruitful soon after, as the seven-time England international distributed to the Wasps-bound back who evaded the attentions of two tacklers to touch down.
It was proving to be an entertaining contest with both sides looking to use the quality of their backlines.
Burns and Cipriani also displayed the type of inventiveness which has become synonymous with the two fly-halves, and the Cherry and Whites' pivot provided the perfect example when his quick thinking caught Sale's rearguard unawares.
Although Mark Cueto was favourite to get to Burns' kick, Sharples' electric pace saw the Gloucester man get there first and level matters.
That score seemed to have stemmed the Sharks' tide but the momentum swung late in the half when James Hudson was sin-binned and, from the resultant passage of play, a dominant maul ended in Braid going over, Cipriani converting.
Gloucester were struggling to deal with the home side's driving game and the second half started with Sale again on the attack.
The pressure resulted in Sila Puafisi being sin-binned before Braid touched down - with the hosts' stand-off adding the extras - to take them 24-10 clear.
The visitors fought back and successive Burns' penalties reduced the deficit to eight points. The encounter then became scrappy but, with just three minutes remaining, another three-pointer from the boot of the Gloucester fly-half secured a losing bonus point.