England and Lions fly half Charlie Hodgson was the hero for Sale Sharks on Friday as his 17-point haul helped put Munster on the back foot in Heineken Cup Pool 1 with a 27-13 defeat.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 1: Friday, October 21
Sale Sharks 27 Munster 13, Edgeley Park (Att: 10,704)
Scorers: Sale: Tries: Sililo Martens, Jason Robinson; Con: Charlie Hodgson; Pens: Hodgson 5
Munster: Try: Frankie Sheahan; Con: Ronan O'Gara; Pens: O'Gara 2
Munster have it all to do in Pool 1 after Philippe Saint-Andre's side came from 13-9 to steal the points in a thrilling opener, played out in front of a record Sale home crowd of 10,704.
Castres' muscular pack, with All Black prop Kees Meeuws their ring leader, come calling to Thomond Park next Saturday and nothing but a win will do for Declan Kidney's men, who sit bottom after the opening round.
Castres, the pool-toppers, held their nerve to beat the Dragons 29-24 for a bonus-point home win on Saturday night. Hooker David Roumieu, Samoan winger Laloaoa Milford (2) and goal-kicking centre Laurent Marticorena all touched down with the latter slotting three conversions and a penalty.
It will be quite a battle next weekend as Munster, Heineken Cup finalists in 2000 and 2002, have their qualification mettle put to the test.
Friday saw Sale shoot into a third-minute lead as Hodgson, with England coach Andy Robinson observing from the stands, landed an early penalty. The Sharks number 10 did miss his second attempt three minutes later and Munster fly half Ronan O'Gara, who pulled an early drop goal wide, struck a 12th-minute penalty to make amends.
Hodgson's tactical kicking allied to a brutish Sale pack, which foraged well in both attack and defence, saw Munster's attacking plans falter although young Heineken Cup debutants Tomas O'Leary and Barry Murphy were holding their own behind the scrum.
Little in the way of clean ball came their way in the first half but the visitors, 6-3 down thanks to Hodgson's second penalty, did break through for the game's opening try on 35 minutes. With Sale's Argentinean lock Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe in the sin-bin for hauling down a Munster maul, the visiting pack took full advantage to drive hooker Frankie Sheahan over in the left corner.
O'Gara converted but Hodgson's injury-time penalty reduced the arrears to 10-6 just before the break.
Eight minutes after the restart, O'Gara clipped over his second penalty and Munster looked well set up for a priceless away win. However, Sale are not the current European Challenge Cup holders and Guinness Premiership leaders for nothing.
Granted they were helped by a 50th-minute yellow card for Sheahan for impeding the progress of a Sale maul, but the Sharks looked the stronger and fresher of the sides in the closing quarter, in which they hit Munster for two tries.
Things just seemed to unravel for Munster and there seemed to be little they could do about it - Sheahan's sin-binning was preceeded by a serious looking knee injury to for flanker Alan Quinlan, with tests this week to confirm his immediate availability.
For Sheahan's misdemeanour, Hodgson kicked his fourth penalty for a 13-12 deficit and it was truly game-on for the baying Edgeley Park faithful. Just on the hour mark, Sale were celebrating their first try.
Sale put the squeeze on a Munster scrum, five metres from the visitors' line, the ball squirted out behind number 8 Anthony Foley and into the in-goal area. The 22-year-old O'Leary reacted quickest to look to touch it down, but to the Corkman's horror he missed it and the lurking Tongan scrum half Sililo Martens was on hand to dive on it and score.
Video evidence confirmed the try for French referee Joel Jutge and Hodgson's conversion put Munster suddenly six points behind.
Kidney's men were then cruelly robbed of a losing bonus point as Sale captain Jason Robinson and Hodgson combined to hit the province for ten points in the closing seven minutes.
First, on 77 minutes, a thunderous tackle on Munster replacement prop Federico Pucciariello by his former Bourgoin team mate Sebastien Chabal saw the ball spin loose to Hodgson. Instinctively, the England number 10 sensed something on and his kick ahead resulted in full-back Robinson outpacing some tired Munster defenders from 70 yards out to gleefully touch down Sale's second try.
Hodgson missed the conversion but rubbed salt into Munster's wounds when landing a fifth penalty in deepest injury-time.
SALE: Jason Robinson (capt); Mark Cueto, Mark Taylor, Elvis Seveali'i, Steve Hanley; Charlie Hodgson, Sililo Martens; Andrew Sheridan, Andy Titterrell, Stuart Turner, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Chris Jones, Jason White, Magnus Lund, Sebastien Chabal.
Replacements used: Sebastien Bruno for Titterrell (46-78 mins), Barry Stewart for Turner (56), Daniel Larrechea for Hanley (64), Dean Schofield for Fernandez Lobbe (66), Valentin Courrent for Martens (80+2), Chris Day for Jones (80+3), Robert Todd for Seveali'i (80+4).
MUNSTER: Shaun Payne; John Kelly, Barry Murphy, Gary Connolly, Anton Pitout; Ronan O'Gara, Tomas O'Leary; Marcus Horan, Frankie Sheahan, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mick O'Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, Denis Leamy, Anthony Foley (capt).
Replacements used: Jerry Flannery for Sheahan (41-48 mins), Trevor Hogan for Quinlan (48), David Wallace for Leamy, Peter Stringer for Pitout, Pucciariello for Hayes (all 72), Flannery for Sheahan (73). Not used: Jeremy Manning, Rob Henderson.
Referee: Joel Jutge (France); Sin-Bin: I Fernandez Lobbe (Sale) (33 mins), F Sheahan (Munster) (50).