Bristol hit their straps to snap Sale’s home win streak in ruthless display

Gabriel Ibitoye of Bristol Bears dives in to score their second try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears at the AJ Bell Stadium on January 05, 2024 in Salford, England
Gabriel Ibitoye crossed for Bristol in a memorable away win - Getty Images/David Rogers

Sale Sharks 14 Bristol Bears 22

A new year and new hope for Bristol, who produced an exhilarating, high-tempo display to destroy Sale’s 12-match winning Gallagher Premiership streak on home soil.

Pat Lam’s men arrived in Salford having endured an inconsistent campaign, yet this was a performance and a victory to savour.

It was chiselled on aggression and obstinate defending and illuminated by tries from scrum-half Harry Randall, wing Gabriel Ibitoye and full-back Max Malins.

Malins was outstanding in defence and attack, producing a try-saving tackle to deny Sale’s Joe Carpenter a certain first-half try before getting on the scoresheet himself for a crucial score two minutes after the interval.

Lam, Bristol’s victorious director of rugby, said: “Max made some great saving tackles but I thought our back three were superb with Noah Heward and Ibitoye.

“This is probably the most difficult place to come and to be the first team to win here for so long is huge. We knew we had to be on it a really strong Sale team – and we were.”

James Williams (R) of Bristol Bears celebrates with team mate Benhard Janse van Rensburg after their victory during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears at the AJ Bell Stadium on January 05, 2024 in Salford, England
Bristol broke a run of 12 straight league wins for Sale at home - Getty Images/David Rogers

You had to go back 14 months for the last time Sale lost a Premiership match on this ground, and director of rugby Alex Sanderson could not hide his anger.

Too often Sale lacked a clinical edge whenever they ventured into Bristol territory and Sanderson was almost beside himself afterwards.

He fumed: “We were inconsistent in collisions, sloppy in discipline and we didn’t take our chances. We need to be more accurate moving forward – and we will be. I’m not bothered about [losing] our home record. I just want a consistent performance week in and week out – and we didn’t get that today.

“We need to be yards better if we want to win this thing. We had eight visits (in their 22) and only converted a couple. We need to come away with at least a 50% conversion rate. That’s the area we need to improve.”

There was an energy about Bristol from the off and it came as no surprise when they opened the scoring in the seventh minute after Randall dashed under the posts from close range.

Former Sale fly-half AJ MacGinty added the conversion and that early advantage poured confidence into Bristol.

Sale gradually steadied themselves, ventured upfield and fashioned a promising move in the 16th minute.

Carpenter, a tenacious competitor and ever-willing runner, supported an attack and drove into the heart of Bristol’s 22-metre line.

Joe Carpenter of Sale Sharks is tackled by AJ MacGintyduring the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears at the AJ Bell Stadium on January 05, 2024 in Salford, England
Joe Carpenter carries well for Sale in the losing effort - Getty Images/David Rogers

His progress was halted, but it hinted at the possibilities on offer for Sale.

Two minutes later, though, and Bristol plundered their second try, with Gus Warr’s kick inside the left channel charged down by lock Josh Caulfield.

Ibitoye collected possession and showed impressive speed and strength to hare past Carpenter and score in the corner before celebrating with gusto.

To Bristol it was the classic scam – keep calm under pressure and then hit the enemy when they are least expecting it.

MacGinty’s second conversion made it 14-0 and in the 31st minute Sale were finally off the mark when Jonny Hill charged down Randall’s kick and galloped over the line, with Rob Du Preez’s conversion cutting Bristol’s lead in half.

Yet the visitors retained a lingering threat with Malins advancing forward from full-back at every opportunity.

Sale thought they had their second try as the interval approached when Carpenter showed outstanding speed to scarper over in the right corner, only for his foot to be diverted into touch by Malins.

It was an exquisite piece of defensive work and tensions simmered between both sets of players as they headed down the tunnel at half-time.

Bristol, though, kept their heads and had their third try shortly after the interval.

The Bears worked the ball across the face of Sale’s defence inside the 22-metre line, culminating in Dan Thomas’ deft offload ushering Malins over in the left corner.

Max Malins scores
Max Malins added a try to a superb all-round display - Action Images/Jason Cairnduff

The first try of the second half was always going to be crucial and that it went to Bristol laid the platform for a famous away victory.

Sale came back strongly as the second half unfolded, enjoying long periods where they battered Bristol’s line.

With 12 minutes remaining, the pressure finally told as replacement hooker Agustin Creevy barrelled over inside the left channel and Du Preez converted.

But Sale’s desperation to salvage the game hurt them in the final 10 minutes as first Telusa Veainu and then Ben Bamber were sinbinned for dangerous challenges and MacGinty kicked a penalty to confirm a memorable win for Bristol and seal his old club’s misery.

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