Worcester boost survival hopes by ending Sale's five-match winning streak
Sale's five-match winning run in the Aviva Premiership came to an end on Saturday as a determined effort from Worcester earned the hosts a 31-23 victory at Sixways.
The Sharks staged something of a recovery, having trailed 21-8 at half-time, but could not claw the deficit back as the Warriors boosted their hopes of avoiding relegation.
Tom Heathcote kicked four penalties and converted two of the three tries scored by Carl Kirwan, Francois Hougaard and Chris Pennell.
Sale were outgunned in the first half but rallied strongly to score four tries - two from Mike Haley and one each for David Seymour and Tommy Taylor. Danny Cipriani kicked a penalty but missed all four conversions in a disappointing performance from him.
Both teams made changes to their starting line-up. Worcester handed a debut to South African scrum-half Hougaard with his compatriot Dewald Potgeiter given a first Premiership start on the flank in place of Phil Dowson. There were also recalls for centre Ryan Mills and hooker Jaba Bregvadze.
Josh Beaumont returned from England squad duty to captain Sale while Sam Tuitupou was back to make his 100th appearance for the club. Jonathan Mills, Eifion Lewis-Roberts and Tom Arscott were also reinstated.
Worcester began strongly, first taking a third-minute lead through a Heathcote penalty before Pennell made a splendid 40-metre break to take Warriors into the home 22. Once there, the hosts maintained the pressure for Kirwan to score the first try of game to reward their early dominance.
After 15 minutes, Cipriani put Sale on the scoreboard with a penalty before the home side appeared to have scored another excellent try. Worcester attacked from a scrum just outside their 22 and a flowing movement resulted in Wynand Olivier crossing in the corner.
However, Sale scrum-half Peter Stringer had seen a Worcester hand in the scrum and appealed to the referee, who, after consultation with the TMO, ruled out the try and awarded a penalty to the visitors.
It was a crucial decision and the correct one, but it did not stop Warriors, who continued to be the better side and went further ahead after 27 minutes when Hougaard celebrated his first appearance by finishing off a driving line-out for a try, which Heathcote converted.
Worcester should have had a further three points but, when they were awarded a kickable penalty in the visitors' 22, Hougaard took it quickly and raced away only for Bregvadze to give away a penalty.
However, within minutes they had another chance and, after Haley was penalised for a late challenge, Heathcote made no mistake with the resulting penalty.
Four minutes before half-time, Sale produced a superb 30-metre driving line-out for Seymour to score but their miserable first half was completed when Haley collected a yellow card and then Heathcote kicked his third penalty for a 21-8 interval lead.
Haley was still absent when, within three minutes of the restart, Sale scored a second try, Taylor scoring from a driving line-out.
But the visitors fumbled the restart for Worcester to capitalise with a try from Pennell, which Heathcote converted before adding a penalty.
Sale produced their best movement of the match on the hour mark and were rewarded with a try from Haley. Cipriani again missed the conversion but the visitors' pack were now the dominant force as Worcester became increasingly under the cosh.
The home side saw prop Nick Schonert sin-binned with 14 minutes remaining and they looked in grave danger of throwing the game away.
Schonert returned before Haley scored a second try to give Sale a bonus point but Worcester just hung on for a much-needed victory as Beaumont was helped from the field with an arm injury as the final whistle sounded.