Well, that went pretty much as expected, given the distinctly non-first-choice team that Sale fielded. It did leave us, though, with a huge, burning, unanswered question: why did Sale have to change to their regular kit for a second time against the same team? Given we changed last week, shouldn’t Exeter have changed this week? We should be told…
After last week’s narrow defeat, it seemed as though Dimes had decided that the Champions’ Cup had to take second place to the league, requirements to rest players and (according to some) the need for home time for the southern contingent.
Different hooker, same lineout. Two minutes in, Sale get a lineout, it goes squint. To be fair, there was a gale blowing but, if Exeter could cope on their lineout, then so should we. And then we pre-engage at the scrum and give away a penalty on the re-scrum. Not a great way to start.
The early part of the game, though, was all Exeter. They had the possession, the territory and the desire, it seemed, although the Sale defence was holding up quite well and denying Exeter the dominance that the figures might otherwise have suggested.
Then, fifteen minutes in, some rare Sale pressure on the Exeter try line resulted in a fairly easy penalty for AJ, giving Sale the lead for a short while. Somewhere in the build-up to that pressure, it seems that Cam Redpath took a knock, and he went off to be replaced by Marland, with Horse going to fullback.
Sam Simmonds got Exeter’s inevitable first try five minutes later in stereotypical Exeter fashion: camp in the red zone and rumble on for however long it takes to go over. Boring when it’s your primary, if not exclusive, method of scoring, but undoubtedly effective.
Ben Curry went off for an HIA (which he failed) and the rest of the half was essentially a mix of Exeter’s grinding game and Sale inaccuracies. You wouldn’t have believed that Sale had a strong wind behind them for the half, given how little territory they amassed.
As you would expect, it all went mostly downhill in the second half, when Exeter had the wind. Four tries to one says it all really. Langdon got binned (2 tries), Sam J got a good try from a brief period of Sale inventiveness, the ref took the players off the pitch when the hail started, Exeter got two more late tries and then the game ended.
- It’s the first time this season that Sale have come away from a game with nothing. I suspect that, with more of the regular starters, we may have got a losing BP, even here (and may have denied Exeter their try BP). I’m not particularly fussed about that, but I am a little concerned that it seems that Dimes has ‘sacrificed’ this competition to whatever else he feels is more important (league, player rest time, whatever).
- Not making the most of the wind in the first half was Sale’s biggest mistake. The conditions called for territory over possession, and I really wanted to see Sale kicking into the Exeter half and chasing hard. The Glasgow/La Rochelle match the night before showed the value of that tactic.
- Still giving away silly penalties, still firing inaccurate passes. These are killing us by killing any fluency that we might build up in attack. Defence is much more solid, but there’s only so much they can do – they need a good portion of the game to be spent in attack, otherwise, they’re going to crumble eventually.
- Sam and Luke had good games. You tend to forget that Sam’s a big lad, and quite capable of being physical in the centres. Luke has a little bit more guile, I feel, and much that he does goes under the radar.
- Wilf and AJ were… steady. Dependable, but lacking that bit of creative spark to keep the opposition defence on their toes.
- I thought Marland looked a bit more confident than last week. He put in a couple of decent tackles, including a good chase on Nic White to stop a promising break.
- Curtis and Warr didn’t disgrace themselves for the time they were on (Curtis replaced Denny early in the second half, Warr came on late for Cliffy). Didn’t set the world on fire, either, but put in a decent shift.
- We’re still third in the table. It’s within our grasp to maintain, and possibly improve, on that.
- We’re not Bath…
- I said early on that I wanted us to not disgrace ourselves in this competition, and I think we’ve already acheived that. Two more reasonable performances, and I’ll be happy with this, as long as we get back into the top flight again next season. Then, I expect us to kick on and at least challenge for a quarter final place.