David Humpheys saluted his Gloucester players after they “dug deep” into their mental and physical reserves to boost their chances of a top-six finish.
The Gloucester director of rugby had to endure a worrying 80 minutes in which lively Sale threatened to spring an upset. But replacement Billy Twelvetrees finished off a move five minutes from time to secure a bonus-try win that leaves them a point below sixth-placed Harlequins.
Humphreys conceded: “We struggled in the first half to impose ourselves the way we wanted to because Sale pressed and were very aggressive.”
Nine tries in an end-to-end attacking contest allowed the hosts to triumph. Full-back Tom Marshall swapped passes with Tom May to rush over for the opening try for Gloucester, converted by Burns. The lead lasted barely a minutes as Sharks broke though and centre Sam James forced his way over for a try with AJ MacGinty adding the extras. Former Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips showed he intends to retire in style with a fine try. He supported flanker Ben Curry who off-loaded in the tackle for Phillips to cross for a second quick Sharks score.
Heavy Gloucester pressure told when Wales hooker Richard Hibbard rose from the bottom of a driving maul to claim the try and a Burns penalty edged the hosts ahead 15-12 at half-time. Sharks then stunned their rivals with two quick tries from replacement prop Kieran Longbottom and wing Byron McGuigan.
But Gloucester were back on song when Burns off-loaded superbly for centre Henry Trinder to cross for a try. Burns converted and MacGinty kicked Sale’s first penalty as the visitors still led by five points.
Yet, it was Gloucester who suddenly found a fifth gear to overwhelm their rivals in the final 20 minutes.
Scoring: 5-0 Marshall try, 7-0 Burns con, 7-5 James try, 7-0 MacGinty con, 7-12 Phillips try, 12-12 Hibbard try, 15-12 Burns pen, 15-17 Longbottom try, 15-19 MacGinty con, 15-24 McGuigan try, 20-24 Trinder try, 22-24 Burns con, 22-27 MacGinty pen, 27-27 Marshall try, 29-27 Burns con, 34-27 Twelvetrees try, 36-27 Burns con, 36-30 MacGinty pen, 39-30 Burns pen.
Gloucester: T Marshall; C Sharples, H Trinder (B Twelvetrees, 64), M Atkinson, T May; B Burns, C Braley, (B Vellacott; 55), J Hohneck (P McAllister, 55), R Hibbard (M Matu’u, 43), J Afoa; J Thrush, M Galarza (T Savage, 70); R Moriarty, L Ludlow, F Clarke (B Morgan, 48).
Sale: M Haley; D Solomona, S James, M Jennings, B McGuigan (J Charnley, 69); A MacGinty, M Phillips (J Mitchell, 78); R Harrison, R Webber, H Aulika (K Longbottom,24); B Evans, A Ostrikov (G Nott, 60), C Neild, B Curry (J Flynn, 69), J Beaumont (T Curry, 60). Sin-bin Harrison, 65
Referee: T Foley (RFU)