Sale 22-12 Bristol: Manu Tuilagi is the man in the late Sale rise as the Sharks put down a title mark
Sale 22-12 Bristol: Manu Tuilagi is the man in the late Sale rise as the Sharks put a title mark against the Bears
- Tuilagi had not played for eight months, but returned fantastically to the action
- Sale won thanks to three tries in the second half, but there was no doubt about his impact
- The win confirms the hosts’ involvement in the playoffs and raises hopes for a semi-home game
Manu Tuilagi’s highly anticipated injury return inspired Sale to beat Premier Bristol at AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night to boost their hopes for a semi-final at home.
England center had not played in eight months after taking serious Achilles damage at Northampton and this was one way of announcing his return.
Sale won thanks to second-half efforts from Dan du Preez, his brother Rob and Curtis Langdon, but there was no question about Tuilagi’s impact on his first appearance of the season.
Manu Tuilagi’s long-awaited return from serious Achilles damage helped Sale defeat Bristol
The strong center was a talisman figure as his side slid 22 points to 12 points past the visitors
What the Premiership table currently looks like
The 30-year-old changed the mood among Sale’s fans – about 2,500 of whom were first admitted this season – and among his teammates.
He came off the bench in the 48th minute trailing 5-0 to Alex Sanderson and Sale was galvanized. They were soon in charge, claiming a win confirming their commitment to the playoffs.
The first half was pointless and thunderous. Neither side was able to break the deadlock. It was a wonder they didn’t break each other, so great was the unrelenting cruelty.
Bristol dominated the opening period, but the hosts held out with a monumental effort. They made 106 tackles before half time and most of them took a lot.
The host’s fly-half AJ MacGinty kicked a late penalty to secure the result for Alex Sanderson’s squad
Visitors rushed to the Sale line and joined early, before being repeatedly repelled by a speeding, big blue wave.
It was an exhausting game, as both teams were kicking for territory and breaking the light of day. It wasn’t a dazzling spectacle, but it was captivating nonetheless.
Five minutes into the second half, points were finally scored – five of them. And they were worth the wait as Bristol scored a brilliant long-term shot.
Piers O’Conor’s pass was released almost halfway, but Max Malins gathered and released Semi Radradra down the left flank.
The win confirms Sale’s involvement in the playoffs and raises hopes for a semi-final at home
He moved the ball back in to Charles Piutau, who in turn sent Ben Earl to the corner. Callum Sheedy missed the wide conversion, so the Bears’ advantage was five points.
But it didn’t take long. The sale got underway when Tuilagi was released. Radradra was abandoned and the home side made a capitalization when Dan du Preez ran over from close range just after the hour.
Moments later, MacGinty gave a cross kick and Byron McGuigan was there to catch the ball and pass it in for Rob du Preez to score.
Nine minutes before time, Langdon struck from a driveway. Ioan Lloyd’s late attempt for Bristol made for a thrilling final before a MacGinty penalty cleared up for Sale.