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The Manchester View

20th October 2008 By Munster Rugby

The Manchester View

Now Sale Sharks know why their Heineken Cup pool is termed the ‘Group of Death’. A week on from the heady heights of enjoying arguably their finest hour and a bit in demolishing French giants Clermont Auvergne, Sale were poleaxed by the mother of all comedowns as reigning champions Munster administered murder by a thousand cuts despite a stirring second-half fightback from the Sharks.

So says Neil Leigh writing today in the Manchester Evening News about yesterday’s epic clash involving the two sides at Edgeley Park.

“To compound the hosts’ pain, as director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre admitted after a nerve-shredding spectacle,” continues Leigh, “Sale assisted in their own downfall by leaving playmaker-supreme Charlie Hodgson stranded on the bench until the 45th minute. The gamble of instead deploying Richard Wigglesworth at No 10 had worked a treat in sunny central France last weekend.

But this time out, at a wind-swept, packed Edgeley Park, it backfired as Sale’s French general conceded afterwards. “It’s always easy to speak about decisions after the game than before the game,” said Saint-Andre. “I make the decisions – sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. Last week Richard Wigglesworth did very well against Clermont Auvergne and I felt that team deserved another chance against Munster.

“But Charlie is a fantastic player and in the five seasons that I’ve been here, he has played all the time. Today when he came on he showed what he is capable of and he tried to create a lot of things around him. Charlie is an intelligent guy and a hard worker. I’m sure he will be fantastic for us this year.”

By the time Hodgson made his 45th-minute bow, Sale were 16-6 down, but the introduction of the England and British Lions fly-half helped galvanise a magnificent, but ultimately doomed, fightback. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Hodgson call, the brutal truth is that the root cause of Sale’s shattering defeat, and one that puts their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals right back in the melting pot, ultimately lay in their failure to find an antidote to the remorseless, grinding qualities that have helped crown Munster kings of Europe.

They may have looked unfamiliar bedecked in all-white as opposed to their familiar red, but whatever their colours, the men from Limerick are past masters at the art of winning when it matters, a lesson Sale still need to heed.

Afterwards, Saint-Andre levelled the charge of naivety at his team – despite their combined wealth of big-match experience – and it was hard to argue with his assertion, particularly when you consider Munster made their decisive push for victory despite being reduced to 14 men for the last 10 minutes of the game after combative centre Lifemi Mafi was sin-binned for a high tackle on Mathew Tait.

Saint-Andre added: “Munster deserved the win because they were better than us. Munster came to do a job on us and they did, especially in the first half. If you make a mistake you can be sure they will punish you and they showed today just why they are the European champions. Munster showed us how to win a game. They were clever and crafty and did to us what we did to ASM Clermont Auvergne last week.

“It was a good, high-level game in which Munster punished us for our mistakes. They really were more clinical than us and really made us pay. We are very disappointed.”

Now, assuming they can win their next two pool games against French side Montauban, Sale will effectively have to triumph at Munster’s imposing Thomond Park fortress if they are to be sure of keeping alive their hopes of making it through to the last eight of the competition.

Given the ferocity of Munster’s display, especially a first half that they dominated with frightening ease, that task will be easier said than done.


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