Sale Sharks 15

Worcester Warriors 12

Cup ties are invariably settled by penalty shoot-outs and so it came to pass in Stockport where Worcester blinked first.

While Sale's newly installed talisman Nick MacLeod banged over five, Warriors managed four and having likened this turgid Premiership encounter to knockout rugby, Richard Hill knew what that meant.

"We were coming here to get into a dog fight and win by three points, it was that sort of cup mentality," the head coach said.

"We almost did it the way we tried to play but just came up short.

"But I think we deserved another point for the effort the players put in which was superb.

"Everyone put in a massive physical contribution so I was proud of them."

The first 40 minutes were scant reward for the time, effort and mountainous quantity of electricity that had gone into making sure the game went ahead.

Having been protected by a heated cover for the past week it was such a shame the Edgeley Park surface was barely used by two sides utterly intent on winning possession - and then kicking it away.

To be fair there was a method to the madness, namely the assumption that anyone trying to catch a ball dropping from the stratosphere would be doing so with rigid fingers.

And more often than not it paid off, particularly for Worcester whose kicking game exerted a measure of control after a slow start.

That edge, aligned to Tevita Taumoepeau's dominance over Andrew Sheridan gave Warriors the platform to build a 9-6 half time lead.

But they had to come from 6-0 down to build it after MacLeod landed fourth and ninth minute penalties.

Warriors responded through Andy Goode who made Rob Miller pay for spilling his up and under with his first three points after 12 minutes.

Then Taumoepeau clattered Sheridan at a scrum 5m in on the 22 and drew an infringement for not binding. Goode levelled.

And on the half hour Goode deposited another scrum penalty between the Sharks' sticks from just short of halfway.

However, soon after the fly half pulled up chasing his own kick through with what looked like a hamstring injury. In the conditions it is a small wonder the tendon didn't produce an audible twang.

But the former England man was replaced by Danny Gray, replete with new contract, at the interval and in a game played in denominations of three Goode's absence was always going to be crucial.

Unfortunately, Gray, his replacement did little to reveal himself as anything more than a bit-part player as he kicked one penalty but missed another and crucially was unable to convert either of the two drop goal opportunities Worcester worked for him.

Which meant that Sale's greater willingness to keep the ball in hand, particularly after the restart meant they warranted the victory.

That it came through the unerring boot of MacLeod was no surprise, although his 50th minute effort came after a bizarre penatly from a Warriors scrum in their own 22.

Two minutes later the otherwise impeccable Shaun Perry had a lucky escape when Dave Seymour charged down his clearance only to see the rebound bobble tantalisingly into touch two metres out.

With a quarter of an hour to go Gray looked the unlikely hero when he kicked a penalty won by Matt Kvesic - but MacLeod was to prevail.

The Welshman levelled with ten minutes to go and settled the game with four remaining after Sam Betty came in at the side.

Warriors were left to wonder how different it might have been had Goode not hobbled off and whether narrow losses such as this will be the reason why they don't edge into the top half of the table.

"It's not his hamstring, it's a tendon at the back the knee, so he may be alright to play next week," Hill said.

SALE: Miller; Brady, Leota (Addison 66), Tuitupou, Cueto; MacLeod, Peel (Willis 66); Sheridan, Jones (Ward 54), Buckley, Ostrikov (Myall 54), Gaskell, Fourie (Vernon 14), Seymour (Cobilas 76), Easter. Replacements: Imiolek, , Burrell.

WORCESTER: Pennell; Garvey, Grove, Rasmussen, Benjamin; Goode (Gray 40), Perry (Arr 76); Mullan, Lutui (Shervington 61), Taumoepeau, Percival, Jones (Gillies 35-40, 61), Betty, Abbott (Kvesic 63), Cowan. Replacements: Porter, Tomasczczyk, Fatiaki

Referee: Llyr Apgeraint Roberts (RFU)