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Sat 26 Nov 1:00pm Salford City Stadium Attendance: 0
Sale Sharks vs Bristol Bears
By Ben Nurse
Sale re-asserted their end of season playoff semi-final hopes with a 25-20 win over Bristol Bears at the Salford City Stadium.
It was a memorable day regardless of the result for the Sale home fans, as local boy and academy graduate, Sam James, played in his 200th match for Sale Sharks. Sam has been a key link of the Sharks centres for over 10 years and is still only 28 years old.
With England internationals Tom Curry, Bevan Rodd, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny Hill at Twickenham set to face South Africa, Sale retained Byron Mcguigan, Ross Harrison, Rouban Birch, Sam Dugdale and others from the team that beat Harlequins in the Premiership cup last Friday. While the Du Preez twins returned from South Africa ‘A’ duty when they played Bristol at Ashton Gate.
A notable name on the Bristol team sheet for Sharks fans was AJ MacGinty, a Shark for six years and a fan favourite of the Salford City Stadium. MacGinty was picked on Bristol’s bench while Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau returned to their starting XV.
Sale started firmly in the ascendency with a potential early Tom Roebuck try chalked off for a knock on. Rob Du Preez did score just a few minutes later, strolling over in the corner after Warr spotted space on the blind-side.
Bristol scored through a neat backs play putting Piers O’Connor over before a spectacular effort from Tom Roebuck put Sale back in the lead. Du Preez hung up a midfield bomb onto Bristol fullback Charles Piutau, but Roebuck rose highest and pinched the ball from the All Black before running 40 metres to dive under the posts.
A Du Preez penalty extended the lead before a freakish sequence of events saw O’Connor get his second try, a loose Bristol offload intercepted by Sale before Sharks made their own loose offload and Bristol intercepted and pounced.
MacGinty, now on the pitch for the injured Sheedy, scored his own penalty on the stroke of halftime to give Bristol a slender 15-17 lead at the break.
Sale started the second-half slowly and, after MacGinty and Du Preez swapped penalties, were still down by two points with 20 minutes to go, Bristol leading 18-20.
Sale negotiated a nervy last 15 with tremendous professionalism and game-management. MacGinty missed a chance to extend the lead to five and when Sale got the chance they chose to kick to the corner rather than take the three points. The gamble paid off and Jean-Luc Du Preez crashed over to the delight of the Sale fans. His brother Rob converted for 25-20.
Bristol were not prepared to lie down, however, and Sale bravely repelled wave after wave of sustained Bear’s attack before finally bundling Jenkins into touch. A huge momentum shift which gave Sale the ball and the chance to close out the final minutes.
Du Preez booted the ball into the north stand as the crowd counted down the last five seconds of the game. The animated reaction of the players reflected how hard they had to work for the victory. A win built on tough defence and taking their chances clinically when they came.
It was another instrumental performance from the Du Preez triumvirate, Rob scoring 15 of the points, Jean-Luc with the game winning try and Dan winning man of the match for a mammoth display on both sides of the ball.
Sam James spoke of his pride for reaching the 200 milestone at his boyhood club, “It was great I had all my family giving me a tunnel out onto the pitch which I was not excepting.
“It is my childhood club so it is massive to get one appearance let alone 200, it was a special moment for me.”
“I never though I would get here, I was a shy lad, I was shocked when I first got picked so to be a senior member of the team now.”
“I used to come support this team, I ball-boy’ed for this team, so it is really a dream come true.”
Speaking of the looming challenge of European fixtures against Toulouse and Ulster, Sam said Sale would not shy away from the Irish and French powerhouse, “We want to compete on the highest stage and we are not there to make up the numbers. We have proved that the last couple years.”
“We want to be challenging this season in the league so we want to keep the momentum going in Europe, then come back and it is no different to us. It is going to be tightly contested this year so we need to be on our metal every week.”
With the win, Sale remain second in the Premiership table with a six point buffer over third place Harlequins. They will have a rest week next weekend before the European games commence.
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