Josh Beaumont marked his return from a 14-month injury lay-off with the decisive try two minutes from time to give Sale a welcome first win since Steve Diamond’s departure. Beaumont had not featured for the Sharks since November 2019 due to a long-term knee problem but he came off the bench to provide the decisive intervention, stretching over a pile of bodies to score late on. It was a sight to warm Sale hearts – none more so than interim head coach Paul Deacon’s, who finally has a win to his name.
It was a fiery contest, terribly tense throughout the second half, as demonstrated by the fight that broke out in the final minute and led to a yellow card for Billy Twelvetrees for clashing with a Sale water carrier. The Gloucester head coach, George Skivington, was unimpressed with the member of Sale’s backroom staff in question for preventing Twelvetrees getting to the ball to take a quick lineout, with the centre sent to the sin-bin for taking matters into his own hands. That sparked a melee between both sets of players which could have further repercussions, and the same could be said of Daniel du Preez’s tackle on Chris Harris five minutes from time which left the Gloucester player needing a HIA. Skivington was similarly unhappy about that, as well as a late scrum call against his side.
“I thought the scrum decision was a disgrace,” said Skivington. “And Chris Harris getting taken off for a HIA when there’s a no-arms shoulder in the back of his head, I don’t know where the TMO is. In my opinion that should have been dealt with. And then their ballboy taking the ball off Billy [to stop] a quick throw, I think that’s a poor finish to a game which was a good contest.”
Just as Sale are still getting accustomed to Diamond’s departure, so too are Gloucester readjusting after the exit of one of their most influential figures in Danny Cipriani. The new year has not brought fresh beginnings for either of these sides just yet but after three previous defeats under Deacon, this was a hard-fought win for the visitors.
Gloucester, meanwhile, find themselves bottom of the table after Worcester were awarded four points following a Covid-19 outbreak at Harlequins that caused their fixture to be cancelled. In other words, it demonstrates just why Premiership ring-fencing – or at the very least doing away with relegation this season – is rapidly moving to the top of the clubs’ agendas. There are still 17 rounds to go but Gloucester’s position will be of some concern given that Covid cancellations are having such an impact on the league standings.
Gloucester began on the front foot with their No 10, Will Evans, and Alan MacGinty exchanging penalties before the former kicked to the corner and a mass of Cherry & Whites drove over, with Fraser Balmain awarded the try. Sale registered another penalty straight after the restart through MacGinty but Gloucester put their foot on the pedal when the visiting skipper, Jono Ross, was sent to the sin-bin just before the half-hour for a no-arms tackle on Val Rapava-Ruskin.
Louis Rees-Zammit’s try came from a lineout on the left with the ball whipped by Stephen Varney to Evans. The timing of his pass, and the way it slid perfectly behind Sam James and into Harris’s hands, was straight from the Cipriani playbook, and once Rees-Zammit was in possession of the ball there was no stopping him.
Evans kicked another penalty, giving Gloucester a 16-6 lead, but MacGinty cut the deficit to seven again with a well-taken kick from the right. Soon after the restart MacGinty notched penalties number four and five – the second with Gloucester’s captain, Lewis Ludlow, in the sin-bin – before Evans responded. Beaumont, though, had the last word.
“It’s fantastic, a fairytale I suppose,” said Deacon. “[It] is a long time in the life of a rugby player to be injured but the celebrations showed what he means for the team. It’s great for Josh, and great to have him back playing.”