WE ARE GOING UP!
Sale travelled down to the East Midlands on Saturday afternoon to play Leicester Lions, knowing that a win would secure them the Championship and promotion to the third tier of English rugby.
Cheered on by a sizeable travelling support, the game kicked off in wet conditions and, with less than a minute on the clock, the home side took the lead as they gained possession halfway inside Sale’s half before throwing the ball wide for the scrum half to scamper in.
Any sign of nerves were quickly dispelled though as the blue and whites began to dominate possession and territory. After a couple of reset 5-metre scrums, they levelled the scores as captain, Andy Hughes, crashed over the line.
On 23 minutes, Chris Johnson kicked a fine penalty to put the visitors into the lead and his clever kicking game continued to keep the hosts pinned back inside their own half.
With a couple of minutes of the first half left, Chris Johnson arrowed a majestic drop goal between the posts to extend the lead and, as the clock ticked past 40 minutes, Sale’s forwards attacked the try line again with the defence unable to stop Tom Ailes diving over.
HT Leicester Lions 5 Sale 18
The hosts came out for the second half with renewed vigour and quickly had the title hopefuls on the back foot and camped on their own try line for an extended period.
It seemed inevitable that the Lions would get back in the game, especially when Neil Briggs and Dan Birchall were shown yellow cards within the space of five minutes, but incredibly the 13 men survived, putting their bodies on the line time after time to deny the home side.
Having resisted for more than 25 minutes, the blue and whites finally relieved the pressure and took play to the other end of the field where replacement prop, Simon Griffiths, burrowed over for a third try from close range, Chris Johnson adding the extras.
This seemed to take the fight out of the home side and, with confidence seeping back into the table toppers, they struck twice late on to put the icing on the cake – Chris Taylor scoring the bonus point try following good work from Joe Kelly and Matt Lawrence adding a fifth after a beautifully-judged cross field kick from Matt Bradley.
FT Leicester Lions 5 Sale 37
As the final whistle blew, coaches, players and supporters congregated as one on the TMDP Park turf to celebrate an historic win for the team (another great example of #onesalefc).
With 26 wins from their 29 games, including 22 wins on the trot, Sale were confirmed as Champions with one game to play, this despite the superb recent form of their closest challengers, Sedgley Park.
Director of Rugby, Jonathan Keep and coach, Tote Howcroft deserve enormous credit for keeping the team focused after missing out on promotion so narrowly last year and leading them to new heights this term.
As for the players, week in week out they have been immense, producing moments of scintillating rugby, but also a fortitude in defence which has seen them concede an average of less than 12 points a game – a quite remarkable effort.
Huge congratulations to each and every one of them from all at the club.