Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Macleod settles turgid contest

Nick Macleod
Nick Macleod

Nick Macleod kicked two second-half penalties as Sale Sharks came from behind to clinch a narrow 6-3 win in a dire cross-Pennines derby at Headingley.

Macleod's Welsh compatriot Ceiron Thomas kicked Leeds into a lead early in the second half but missed two further penalties, notably from just inside the Sale half eight minutes from the end, to leave Leeds at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table without a win from their first six games.

Sale, meanwhile, head towards mid-table after a third victory of the season which was hardly inspiring, but enough to overcome the Yorkshire side.

There were further worries for Leeds head coach Neil Back as flanker Hendre Fourie failed to return for the second half after suffering a rib injury. The South Africa-born flanker will have a nervy wait for the diagnosis having already missed out on a possible England debut on the summer tour to Australia due to a calf injury.

But England manager Martin Johnson had better news as Mark Cueto and Andrew Sheridan for Sale and Steve Thompson of Leeds emerged relatively unscathed ahead of the England squad meet-up on Monday for the build-up to the autumn internationals.

The first half was a fierce, if uninspiring, battle between the two northern foes. Thomas missed a 16th-minute penalty on his return from bench duty during the European break, and on the three occasions Leeds forced their way into the opposition 22 they turned over possession with Fourie and centre James Tinknell guilty of spilling the ball.

Sale, with England wingers Ben Cohen and Cueto on either flank were content to let Leeds have the ball with their strong defence repelling everything the Yorkshiremen threw at them in a scoreless first half.

Despite Fourie's absence at the start of the second half, Leeds belatedly got the scoreboard ticking over three minutes in through a Thomas penalty. Macleod levelled matters on 50 minutes after Charlie Hodgson had struck a post with a drop goal when French referee Jerome Garces had allowed advantage.

Macleod then booted Sale ahead on 58 minutes and would have extended that lead had a 60-metre penalty shortly after not hit the upright. From closer in Thomas pushed a kick wide in the 72nd minutes, after which the hosts began to get desperate as they tried to force the issue.

Leeds were guilty of poor passing that will have frustrated Back and director of rugby Andy Key, who are trying to initiate a more free-flowing game at Headingley Carnegie. Sale, led by Neil Briggs for the first time, were never really threatened and hung on.

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