Cipriani gives Sale much-needed win
Danny Cipriani was Sale's hero as the Premiership strugglers overturned a 27-12 deficit to gain a dramatic, morale-boosting 34-33 triumph over Cardiff on their return to the Heineken Cup.
The Sharks were trailing by 15 points when Cipriani, making his way back from injury and illness, was introduced from the bench after 49 minutes and he scored one try and created another as Bryan Redpath's men went on to snatch a breathless victory.
Sale gained a 27-26 win over the Blues in their last Heineken Cup campaign at Edgeley Park three years ago and Redpath will be hoping Sunday's repeat victory - their first at the new Salford City Stadium - will kick-start their season after opening with six straight defeats.
Cardiff, who played all but five minutes of the match without Sam Warburton due to injury, were leading 30-24 when they were reduced to 14 men with the sin-binning of replacement Lewis Jones seven minutes from the end. And the extra man advantage proved crucial as prop Tony Buckley was driven over for the match-winning try a minute later, although the Sharks were hanging on in the end after Leigh Halfpenny's seventh goal cut the gap to a solitary point.
The outcome was tough on Wales winger Alex Cuthbert, whose first-half hat-trick of tries looked to have put his side on their way to victory. The Blues, who went into the game on the back of consecutive defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12, suffered an early blow Warburton went off after just five minutes with a dislocated finger.
Back rower Richie Vernon and Andy Powell were prominent as the home side established early territorial dominance but full-back Rob Miller fumbled centre Will Addison's pass with the line at his mercy while debutant right winger Mark Jennings failed to make the most of a touchline dash.
But after Halfpenny and Nick Macleod traded penalties, Sale quickly fell 17-3 behind as Cuthbert ran in two tries in a three-minute spell. Two further penalties from Macleod kept the home side in touch but Cardiff hooker Marc Breeze punished their latest handling error by cutting a swathe through their fragile defence to get Cuthbert over for his hat-trick try on 36 minutes.
Macleod's fourth penalty on the stroke of half-time made it 24-12, but Halfpenny landed another long-range effort five minutes into the second half to restore his side's 15-point lead. That was the signal for Redpath to send on Cipriani in a bid to revive their fortunes and within six minutes he had scored his first try for the club, taking a return pass from Addison.
That cut the deficit to 10 points but Miller, taking over the goalkicking duties, was wide with the conversion attempt and Halfpenny demonstrated precision to land another long-range penalty to keep his side in the driving seat. But when Cipriani's long pass was gathered by replacement centre Johnny Leota, he got Jennings over for a debut try and Miller's first goal of the afternoon cut the gap to six points.
Then came the sin-binning of Jones and Sale grabbed their opportunity to produce a storming finish, much to the delight of the 5,853 crowd.