Sale’s season after three games could probably be most charitably described as ‘inconsistent’. Relinquishing a 10-0 halftime lead at home in the opener, a comprehensive win at Irish and a scrappy defeat at Bristol.
On the upside, two losing bonus points out of two could be classed as an improvement over recent seasons and six tries on a day of filthy weather is not to be sniffed at. On the downside, both defeats could, and maybe should, have been wins. It’s still early in the season, but a win at home to Wasps was a necessity, both as a fillip for the team and to give them a decent league showing heading into the Champions’ Cup fortnight.
Let’s be honest: this was not a game that will stick in the memory, unless it were for all the wrong reasons. It was scrappy and lacked fluency – a fairly typical Friday night game, in other words. Oh, it had its good bits: some neat footwork from Byron, Rohan starting to get back his cannonball status, Papier having his best game in a Sale shirt so far, the return of AJ…
On the whole, I came away encouraged but not enthused. It’s time to repeat, again, what I said after the first game:
If we can get a full season out of Ashton and Rohan and if Yarde is back to full blazing speed (and if Denny wakes up quicker than he did last season), then we should consider anything less than top six a failure, given the quality on display, even when ring rusty.
I’d say top four, but there are enough new players and sufficient disruption this season that I would consider that a bonus, rather than an expectation.
So, let’s look at the bare bones of the match. The first five minutes were pretty cagey, with just a Rob Du Preez penalty separating the sides. Then we got the first of those ‘memorable’ moments: Spaghetti’s binning.
At the time, it seemed a ridiculous decision, made in haste. Having watched the replay, I can see why it was given, but I feel it was very harsh, especially in light of what Nic White got away with for Exeter against Bristol.
But it was given and subsequent events went: kick to touch, lineout, maul, rumble, rumble, rumble, try. I still cannot understand Sale’s action in ‘defending’ that maul. It looked as if they had received personal assurances that Robson was going to feed his backs, so stood off to defend that.
Wasps going further ahead with a penalty seemed to wake Sale up somewhat. They quickly responded with a sublime piece of footwork from Byron, skipping out of a couple of tackles to feed Dan Du Preez, who showed a neat sidestep and a clean pair of heels to bring it back to parity.
From that point on, Sale had the better of the game. It would be wrong to say that they dominated, but they had more possession and territory and were more productive in midfield.
We got a glimpse of what Embrose Papier is capable of with a wonderful, mazy run from halfway. That the try was scrubbed out for blocking by Cam Redpath should not distract from Papier scorching several Wasps players on his way to the line. Try of the month had it counted.
RdP added a penalty to give Sale a 13-10 lead (one that was never thereafter relinquished), which would stay to half-time (and lead to much muttering in the assembled faithful as not being enough).
Talking of Rob, he managed to hit the upright again. Has anyone told him that you don’t get extra points for that? Should we erect a post between the other two and get him to aim at that?
Early in the second half, Sale went a further three points up before Kibirige scored a try out wide for Wasps that had the commentators creaming their trousers. Sale fans, used to watching Denny, just said ‘meh, it was OK’.
From then on, it was succession of penalty kicks to the final whistle and sighs of relief all round from the Sale fans.
Oh, yes, there was something else…
We need to talk about…
On commentary, Ben Kay said that Paolo’s problem was that his leg was initially bent and he straightened it into Rohan’s face. Had the leg been extended from the start, all would have been fine.
If he’s correct, and that is how the Laws work, then, in my opinion, the Laws need to be modified.
I would argue that there is no need—ever—for a player jumping for the ball to have a leg extended in front, with studs showing. If the sole of the foot is vertical, and the studs make contact with another player, then that should, in my opinion, be an automatic red. It’s one thing for your studs to be showing when your leg is bent behind you, so your foot’s near your bum, but leg extended in front? No. Not necessary. Ever. Failure of technique. If you can’t do it without extending your leg, then don’t jump.
Red cards usually carry some sanction post-match, mostly in the form of a ban for a certain number of games. Often, though, there is an argument that the card itself was sufficient punishment and that no further action should be taken.
I’m not going argue about that, but it did get me thinking around the whole binning/sending off thing.
Paolo’s card came in the 78th minute and had little material effect on the game (well, I suppose it gave AJ the kick that took the bonus point away from Wasps, so you might call that a fairly significant team punishment), but what if had been in the second minute? There’s a difference between 78 minutes with 14 players and two minutes. Different ‘punishments’ for the same offence.
When would it become ‘sufficient punishment’? Who is being punished, the player or the team?
I haven’t yet formulated an opinion about these questions, or even if they’re worth worrying about. Just idle speculation, really. Any thoughts?
I don’t usually talk about the referee in these reports, especially not critically, but I thought I’d bring it up here because, once again, the old ‘one-eye’ syndrome raises its head.
I have found in the past that, almost every time that I’ve come away from a match fuming at the referee, watching the replay shows that he was right.
I mean, I still think that Hammersley’s yellow was harsh, and I still think that he was a bit… pedantic… at times, but it’s worth remembering that the ref almost certainly wasn’t as rubbish as you thought he was.
Case in point: Wasps gave away something like twenty penalties, at least six in row at one point, and just about the entire crowd was asking why he wasn’t at least warning them or binning someone for repeated infringement.
The funny thing is, on watching the game again, I didn’t get that feeling of constant infringements needing to be sanctioned. Maybe because I knew the result, so there wasn’t the anxiety that one suffers live, but, to me, it seemed perfectly OK. They were infringing, they got penalised. If Rob had been a bit more accurate, we’d have been out of sight much earlier.
- Dan du Preez may well be the signing of the season. If not him, then Jean-Luc. Or both.
- Papier had his best game so far and showed some real pace and agility. Let’s hope he kicks on with that, at least until Faf has come down from cloud 9.
- The lineout looked better. A couple still went astray but, on the other hand, we nicked a couple of theirs.
- Akker’s run. I forgot to mention it up above, but what a break.
- Sale’s wingers are not “Ashey, Denny, Marland… and Byron”. Horse is a full-fledged musketeer. His ability to break tackles was matched only by Rohan in this game.
- Had we managed to get the ball to the backs a bit more fluidly, I think we would be celebrating a try bonus point from the match. Whether that came from a lack of inter-player understanding or whether it was because of Wasps’ constant infringement, it needs sorting. And I think it will get sorted – it’s the reason why I keep posting those paragraphs I quoted above.
- Champions’ Cup coming up. Right now, I think I’d be happy with not coming bottom of the group. I may revisit that after the Glasgow game, but I really now see this team as Dimes’s famous ‘year 0’ of so long ago. All the bits are in place, it’s just a matter of connecting them up properly.
Best wishes to Josh. Get well soon.