|Sale (0) 22|
|Tries: D du Preez, R du Preez, Langdon Cons: MacGinty 2 Pen: MacGinty|
|Bristol (0) 12|
|Tries: Earl, Lloyd Con: Sheedy|
Sale Sharks came from behind to beat Premiership leaders Bristol and book their place in the play-offs.
After a scoreless first half, Bristol went ahead through Ben Earl’s try.
But the match hinged on a yellow card to Bears centre Semi Radradra that allowed them to take the lead with tries from Dan and Rob du Preez.
Curtis Langdon stretched their lead with a third score before Ioan Lloyd gave Bristol a chance with their second but an AJ MacGinty penalty sealed it.
Sale’s seventh straight Premiership win, a new club record, means they will be in the end-of-season play-offs for the first time in 15 years, the same year they won the title in 2006.
Bristol, who had already qualified along with Exeter, missed the chance to secure a home semi-final with a point.
Fourth-placed Harlequins can secure the final play-off place with a bonus-point victory over Bath on Saturday.
Both defences cancelled each other out during the first scoreless first half of this Premiership season with some impressive cover tackling and work on the floor to force turnovers and handling errors.
The deadlock was broken early in the second half when back row Earl went over after Radradra found room to sprint past three tackles before Charles Piutau supplied the final defence-splitting pass.
That forced Sale into introducing England centre Manu Tuilagi off the bench for his first appearance in eight months following a torn Achilles tendon.
While his presence added more physicality for Sharks, the major talking point came shortly after when Radradra was yellow carded for a high tackle on replacement scrum-half Raffi Quirke.
After lengthy deliberations between referee Christophe Ridley, his two assistants and television match official Ian Tempest, Radradra escaped further punishment for an earlier collision around the neck and shoulder of fly-half MacGinty. Bristol also escaped seeing his initial infringement upgraded to a penalty try.
Sale would profit soon after though from the man advantage with number eight Du Preez finally going over from a tap penalty. His brother Rob then had an immediate impact off the bench latching on to an inside pass from Byron McGuigan after MacGinty’s cross-field kick had stretched Bristol’s back line.
Langdon stretched that lead when he dotted down at the end of a rolling maul and despite Lloyd’s clever finish in the corner from Piutau’s pass, Bristol were unable to find another score to give themselves a chance of a comeback.
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson told BBC Radio Manchester:
“I’m over the moon for the result and the points. But I said to the guys before the game, I wasn’t too bothered about the result, it was certain behaviours I wanted to see around the physical attributes we have.
“If we did that for 80 minutes, I knew the result would look after itself and it did in that way.
“I just don’t want to take that sort of effort for granted. So I’m happy with the win but more so with the way they went about it.
“What that showed tonight is that championships are won not on the execution, but the togetherness and resilience they displayed.”
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“You have to applaud both sets of players, they put their bodies on the line and it was bone-crunching and physical.
“That’s massive and you have to give Sale credit. It felt like a Test match and it was always going to come down to little moments.
“This will hold us in good stead going into finals rugby. The boys have worked hard to put ourselves in this situation and there’s things we can take away after being severely tested this evening.
“We’ll learn from that and come back next week, regroup and be stronger.”
Sale: L James; McGuigan, S James, Doherty, Yarde; MacGinty, De Klerk; Rodd, Van der Merwe, Oosthuizen, Wiese, J-L du Preez, T Curry, B Curry, D du Preez.
Replacements: Langdon, Morozov, Harper, Phillips, Neild, Quirke, R Du Preez.
Bristol: C Piutau; Morahan, Radradra, O’Conor, Malins; Sheedy, Uren; Woolmore, Kerr, Sinckler, Attwood, Vui, Harding, Earl, Hughes.
Replacements: Thacker, Thomas, Chaparro, Holmes, Heenan, Kessell, Lloyd, S Piutau.
Sin-bin: Radradra (58 mins).
Referee: Christophe Ridley.