Even though Halfpenny gave the Blues a first minute lead through a penalty after crossing, it was the Sharks who made the brighter start. Vernon, Miller and Addison all featured in spirited attacks but the team's handling wasn't sufficiently precise. Blues infringed at a ruck with twelve minutes gone, allowing Macleod to send over an equalising penalty against his former club.
On the quarter hour mark, the otherwise excellent Addison unfortunately knocked on a high ball against the strong Salford sunlight, setting up a platform for the Blues to score their first try. Sweeney and Roberts made forceful progress through the middle, setting up Cuthbert for the score, which Halfpenny improved.
Although the Sharks' reply through Fowles and Vernon was immediate, within three minutes Cuthbert pounced again. Halfpenny, who struck all seven of his afternoon's kicks between the posts, converted. Macleod reduced the arrears with penalties after 25 and 35 minutes, despite Cardiff's superiority in between, with Jamie Roberts incisive at centre, and Cuthbert denied a third score through the combined efforts of Miller and Jennings near the corner flag.
The Blues Number 14 completed his hat trick four minutes before half time. Hooker Breeze caught the ball and made a break through the centre before offloading to the scorer. Inevitably, Halfpenny converted. The final score of the half was Macleod's fourth penalty following a high tackle. 12-24 didn't look promising, especially after the Sharks' good start, but it was probably a fair reflection of the pattern of the game.
Two minutes after the re-start, an inspirational catch of a high ball by Miller sent out a positive message and started a promising move which, sadly, ended with a knock on. Two minutes later, Sharks were offside, and Halfpenny landed a massive penalty from fully 50 metres out to make the score 12-27.
Willis and Cipriani entered the fray together five minutes later to form an alternative half back partnership. Eifion Roberts tried to emulate his namesake with a charge down the centre, but Cipriani's pass wasn't read by his colleagues out right. Nonetheless, this was a sure sign that the bar was being raised by the home side. Debutant Mark Jennings made another promising run, then, on the other side, an exquisite Cipriani pass to Addison was returned with interest, allowing the creator to finish the move for five points.
Halfpenny could never be left out of the equation and when Powell was penalised after 57 minutes, the Blues' fullback slotted over a superb penalty from three metres inside his own half to make it 17-30. Cueto was penalised for not releasing, and Cardiff replied with a sweet move involving Reed, Halfpenny and Evans to maintain the pressure.
Sharks weathered the storm and scored their second try after 63 minutes. Willis took a quick tap penalty, Cipriani and Leota carried on the move to release Jennings, who cut inside to behind the posts in classic style on his debut. Miller converted and there were only six points between the sides.
Cueto was brave to pounce on a wickedly bouncing ball and set up a lively attack which ended with a home penalty being kicked into the corner. Gray did well at the lineout but the Sharks strayed offside. Leota had a pass intercepted, then Cipriani was dangerously near the line. Blues' Lewis Jones was shown the game's only yellow card for a technical offence. From the resultant scrum, Powell broke from the back, but it was Buckley who dived over for try three, confirmed by the TMO. Miller's conversion gave the Sharks a one-point lead.
With four minutes to go, Blues were penalised for not releasing on their own 10 metre line. Miller was coolness personified as he sent the kick over. Within two minutes, Halfpenny's fourth penalty of the match narrowed the gap to a single point but the final stages saw the Blues penned in their own 22 and unable to do anything else but try to run the ball out. Spirited Sharks tackling prevented any intrusion into their own half, and they held firm for their inaugural victory.
The Blues had been restricted to penalties in the second half whilst their opponents had scored three tries - just as had been the case in reverse before the break.
After the game, Sharks' Director of Rugby Bryan Redpath revealed, "I said to the players at half-time we were staring down the barrel of a gun. We had to go out with the right mindset to win the game.
"It's been a tough six weeks. We've taken a lot of flak, quite rightly so in many ways, but hopefully we can turn the corner. The next two games are huge for us."
"It's something we've been longing for," added Heineken Man of the Match Danny Cipriani. "We had to give the fans something to cheer about and we did."
Scoring (Sharks first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-10, 3-17, 6-17, 9-17, 9-24, 12-14 (Half Time) 12-17, 17-27, 17-30, 24-30, 31-30, 34-30, 34-33
Sale Sharks: 15.Rob Miller, 14.Mark Jennings, 13.Will Addison, 12.Sam Tuitupou, 11.Mark Cueto, 10.Nick Macleod, 9.Nathan Fowles, 1.Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 2.Tommy Taylor, 3.Tony Buckley, 4.Richie Gray, 5.Fraser McKenzie, 6.Richie Vernon, 7.David Seymour (capt.), 8.Andy Powell
Replacements: 16.Joe Ward, 17.Ross Harrison, 18.Vadim Cobilas, 19.Kearnan Myall (all not used), 20.James Gaskell for McKenzie (59), 21.Cillian Willis for Fowles (49), 22.Danny Cipriani for Macleod (49), 23.Johnny Leota for Tuitupou (59)
To view the photo album from the game, please visit the Sale Sharks Facebook page.
|Sale Sharks Score Card|
|Cardiff Blues Score Card|