Sale 34 Cardiff 33: Cipriani comes off the bench to inspire stunning Sharks comeback
14:55 GMT, 14 October 2012
Danny Cipriani was Sale's hero as the Premiership strugglers overturned a 27-12 deficit to gain a dramatic, morale-boosting 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 the repeat victory – their first at the new Salford City Stadium – will kick-start their season after opening with six straight defeats.
Back in it: Sale celebrate after Danny Cipriani's (third right) try during the Heineken Cup Pool Six match
Touching down: Former England back Cipriani scores for the Sharks at Salford City Stadium
Cardiff, who played all but five minutes of the match without Sam Warburton due to injury, were still 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 former Munster 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 from as many attempts had 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.
Hat-trick: Alex Cuthbert scored three tries but was tackled by Rob Miller and Mark Jennings on this drive
The Wales captain, who was returning to the side from a hand injury, was in hospital as his team-mates established a 24-9 interval lead, largely due to the efforts of Cuthbert, the 22-year-old hero of Wales' Grand Slam-winning team of last season.
Last season's Cup quarter-finalists took the lead with a third-minute penalty, struck by Halfpenny from two metres inside his own half after Sale were pulled up for obstruction in a promising attacking position.
The incident summed up the Sharks' current problems, with confidence draining away through an inability to finish off promising moves.
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.
Crunch: Sale wing Mark Cueto (centre) is tackled by Andy Kyriacou
Sale drew level through the first of four first-half penalties from former Cardiff fly-half Nick Macleod but they quickly fell 17-3 behind after Cuthbert ran in two tries in a three-minute spell.
He was in support of a midfield break by centre Jamie Roberts to score his first on 15 minutes and, before Sale had time to recover, finished off a sweeping move involving Halfpenny and Ceri Sweeney for his second.
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.
Winning moment: Rob Miller scores a crucial penalty kick for Sale to complete the comeback
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, handed the goalkicking duties following the withdrawal of Macleod, was wide with the conversion attempt and Halfpenny demonstrated precision to land another long-range penalty to keep his side in the driving seat.
Pull your socks up: Mark Jennings dives over the line to score his debut try for the Sharks
But Cipriani's long pass was gathered by replacement centre Johnny Leota, who 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.