Champions pass test of mettle
By Tony Curtis
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Sale Sharks showed why they are champions with a gritty win over Wasps.
Sale Sharks v London Wasps, Guinness Premiership, Edgeley Park, KO 7.45pm
Sale Sharks showed why they are the current Guinness Premiership champions with a gritty 18-12 victory over Wasps at Edgeley Park.
With international commitments robbing both sides of a host of top players, it was Sale who dug the deepest to claim four highly-satisfying points.
Victory takes them above Wasps and a point behind Bristol at the top of the table, thanks to the West Country club's defeat at Newcastle.
After Charlie Hodgson inspired the Sharks to semi-final glory over Wasps at the end of last season, it was deputy Daniel Larrachea who won the game for the hosts this time, kicking 15 of the hosts' points total.
Sale went into the match without England men Hodgson, Stuart Turner, Chris Jones, Magnus Lund and Andy Sheridan, while injury also claimed winger Mark Cueto.
Wasps were not without their problems either, with Joe Worsley, Tom Rees and Josh Lewsey all on the physio bench, in addition to international absentees Mark van Gisbergen and Paul Sackey.
Such is the quality of the two clubs' squads though that there was still plenty of class on the pitch at Edgeley Park, but quality was sporadic as mass changes took their toll.
In the end, it was the champions who edged the battle of the packs on a cold night in Stockport, allowing Larrachea the chance to kick them to victory - a task he completed coolly.
The Frenchman's all-round game was impressive as he kicked his team into positions where they could pressurise the Wasps defence, who offered up penalties far too frequently.
Larrachea converted three penalties and a drop-goal before he was forced off on the hour through injury, allowing Lee Thomas to add a further three-pointer.
It wasn't all doom and gloom for Ian McGeechan's men, who claimed a hard-earned bonus point thanks to Dave Walder's late kick.
Lawrence Dallaglio and Jonny O'Connor both put in combative performances, the former clearly intent on matching the physical strengths of opposite number Sebastien Chabal.
Indeed the visitors should have scored the game's first try midway through the first half, camping on Sale's line for fully five minutes before Edd Thrower failed to convert.
The Sharks briefly threatened through Jason White and Robinson, but each time it was left to Larrachea to do the honours.
Ambition was increasingly put to one side as the contest succumbed to anxiety and tension, and it was Sale's ability to keep their noses in front that eventually claimed four forgettable - yet crucial - points.