Ospreys shock Sale to keep Cup hopes alive

Sale 7 Ospreys 18

Sale 7 Ospreys 18

Injury-hit English champions Sale were sent crashing out of the Heineken Cup as the Ospreys kept alive their hopes of a first quarter-final spot.

With number eight Ryan Jones driving huge holes in the Sharks defence and winger Nikki Walker causing havoc with his surging runs, the Welshmen were good value for their win, which came in front of Sale’s best home crowd of 10,662 at Edgeley Park.

The Ospreys got two of the four tries they needed for a maximum points haul within the first eight minutes but were then involved in an attritional contest and in the end were simply satisfied to complete the double over a Sharks side bereft of 13 regulars through injury.

They must now wait to see if their 20-point haul is enough to secure them one of the two runners-up places in the last eight.

Sale battled bravely in an often feisty but always entertaining final pool three match as both sides went in search of a bonus-point win but the outcome was rarely in doubt.

The Sharks were led by France international Sebastien Chabal in the absence of Jason Robinson, who joined the mounting casualty list when he failed a late fitness test on a back injury.

There was no let-up in the carnage, either, with prop Lionel Faure limping off after just 28 minutes.

The Ospreys, on the other hand, received a pre-match boost when wing Nikki Walker (shoulder), lock Brent Cockbain (dead leg) and captain Duncan Jones (bicep) all passed fitness tests.

And the Welshmen, who paid for a slow start against Stade Francais a week earlier, were quick out of the blocks this time, piling up a 15-0 lead inside 14 minutes.

Impressive flanker Steve Tandy was driven over after just four minutes and then full-back Stefan Terblanche added a fortuitous second try when a pass from Sale prop Stuart Turner meant for Juan Fernandez Lobbe fell into the grateful arms of the South African and he scythed through a scattered Sharks defence to touch down.

Fly-half James Hook succeeded with one of the conversions and extended his side’s lead with a 15th-minute penalty before Sale found their feet.

The game opened up even more after the sin-binning of Dean Schofield (Sale) and Andrew Lloyd (Ospreys) for fighting and the English champions launched a furious onslaught which ought to have brought them some reward.

Last-ditch tackles from Shane Williams and Tereblanche stopped Chris Mayor and Oriol Ripol in full flight for the line and, when lively scrum-half Benn Foden jinked his way over, the try was disallowed for obstruction.

The penalty count was 7-1 against Sale at one point and referee Alain Rowland also infuriated the home crowd when he showed Chabal a yellow card for stamping, an incident which came at the height of the champions’ onslaught.

Sale’s persistence finally paid off 11 minutes into the second half when Lobbe strolled over unopposed from a training-ground move after Hook had become the fourth player to be sin-binned, this time for killing the ball.

The Ospreys were, in fact, down to 13 men at the time, with Alun Wyn Jones in the process of leaving the field with a facial injury and they were exposed when their defenders fell for Foden’s dummy run.

Daniel Larrechea’s conversion cut the deficit to eight points but centre Gavin Henson sealed the Welshmen’s win with a 58th-minute penalty.

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