Posted in match reports

View from the south stand: Sale 48 Harlequins 10

We’ve been saying for a while that, at some point, this Sale team will click and some poor sods are going to be on the wrong end of a hiding. Well, this was a hiding, make no mistake, but I don’t think it came from Sale ‘clicking’ as such. Or, if they did click, it was more of a ratchet than a smooth gearbox.

I said in a previous report that I felt we were getting incremental improvements as each game came along, and this was no different, just that this was a larger increment than before. It’s not like everything suddenly came together in one glorious feast of champagne rugby – it didn’t – but it gelled in patches, and those patches were enough. There’s still a way to go, and I feel excited for what is to come if this brutal demolition of a hapless Quins side is any indication.

Several players significantly upped their games for this match, and that made all the difference. Mr Moustache found his kicking boots, Wilf had a blinder, Rohan earned his van Cannonball nickname again, The du Preez twins bludgeoned their way through the game, Sam James produced a masterclass of touch kicking and his brother showed again what a prospect he is for the future. If we never see ‘L. James’ on an England team sheet, then it’s because the world will have ended in the next year or so.

Demolitions ‘R’ Us

What is there to say about the mere mechanics of the game itself? The first thing I did the following morning was to watch the recording from the night before. That will never get old.

Having watched Quins the week before, it was obvious that they were eminently beatable as long as you stifled Care and Smith, and basically tied Ibitoye’s bootlaces together. Care has too much nous and Smith and Ibitoye have too much natural talent to treat them as anything other than a real danger.

That danger was made blindingly apparent five minutes in when, after sustained Sale pressure, the ball came loose and was fly hacked down the field for Ibitoye to turn on the afterburners and chase the ball down for the opening try.

Here we go again…

But, no. Two minutes later, a penalty from Rob du Preez pulled the score back to 3–7, and shortly after that, that man Akker burst through a porous Quins defence and charged 30 metres (a real 30 metres, not a hooker’s 30 metres) for Sale’s first. Just over five minutes after going behind to a fluky try, Sale took a lead that they never thereafter relinquished.

Ten minutes later, in a near mirror image of Quins’ try, the ball went loose, Sam hacked it down the field, Horse galloped after it and picked it up 5 metres out. Unfortunately, he got caught, but there was Sam in support to receive the offload and score. 17–7 and we were looking good.

Smith pulled back a penalty, after having bounced one off the posts (had he borrowed RdP’s old boots?), but that was pretty much the extent of Quins’ attacking threat.

Then, with the half rapidly closing out, Quins dropped the ball trying to form a maul from a lineout. They then gave away a penalty at the scrum (interestingly, all scrum penalties in the game went with the feed. Just noting a pattern, not making any suggestions about techniques in reffing the scrum…). All of which ended up, a couple of minutes into overtime, with Luke James skipping through yet another hole in the defence to run in for try number 3.

24–10 at half time, and we were thinking, “it’ll take a spectacular meltdown to bugger this up. Yep, could happen…”

For the first 25 minutes of the second half, it seemed increasingly likely that Sale would actually fail to achieve the try bonus point. Things basically swung back and forth in midfield, punctuated only by Joe Marler doing something stupid (but I repeat myself…). And no, it was never going to be a red card. I’ve watched enough refs this season debating sanction to know that it was clearly going to be yellow because of the relative lack of force involved.

Then, finally, a five-metre lineout, a well-set maul and over goes Webber for the bonus-point try, and we all breathed a bit easier. Even that didn’t go smoothly, as Marland took the opportunity to get a bit of afters in on Robshaw, only to be unceremoniously thrown away by Symons. Two more yellows for the day, but the try stood, having been scored before the wee contretemps.

An interesting example, though, of how referees really don’t like players retaliating. Although Yarde was the prime culprit, Sale were awarded the penalty from the kick-off because of Symond’s action in response. Sam James put in yet another pinpoint kick to the corner, by the way.

Five minutes later, Quins were expecting a maul but Sale quickly gave it to Ashton, who broke through yet another defensive hole to score (sedately) under the posts. 41–10 and even Sale can’t throw this away, surely.

Indeed, no, and they even consolidated things as the clock went red when Rohan once again broke through a tackle (the 11th time, if I saw the stats correctly) to run in for try number six and a convincing 48–10 scoreline. And, for the second home game running, we nilled the visitors in the second half.

Happy, smiley people everywhere on the bus back to the Trafford Centre (apart from a couple of Quins fans; they were decidedly not happy).

So, all’s good now, right?

Yeah, but, no, but…

First off, let’s be clear: this was a fabulous victory. A demolition of a team in a similar to position to us – expecting much, not quite delivering yet. This may have been the best performance so far this season. Things are definitely gelling; admittedly, it’s more the lumpy gel of cottage cheese than the silky smoothness of a nice egg custard, but, still, we’re getting there.

After the disappointment of the defeat-that-should-have-been-a-win at Bath, this was a much-needed fillip.

But, then, so was the win against Saints. The problem is that Sale have alternated wins and defeats in the league so far, and we need to put together a few consecutive wins. Given that the next two league games are away at Exeter and away at Saracens, that’s going to need a monumental effort.

I thought Wilf had a good game – I think his steadiness (mundanity, even) was what this game needed. It allowed the backs to flourish more, because the onus was on them to deliver, rather than rely on Faf pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

Rohan was much more like the player that we had on loan a couple of years back. Still occasionally suspect in ball retention, but back to the cannonball of old.

The Three Dupreez were again a class act. The twins were everywhere, smashing into everything and generally being right royal pains the collective Quins arse. Rob had his kicking boots on and played the perfect foil to Cliffy. Two steady, dependable half-backs can be a good thing…

The defence was immense. Honestly, the only way Quins were ever going to score was by a fluke from a Sale error, the defence was that tight.

Onward and upward

Back to Europe next week (see you in La Rochelle if you’re going). I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. On the one hand, we’re going nowhere, so these next two games are for a bit of pride and consolidating this performance with the pressure off. On the other hand, let’s take the momentum forwards without possibly going off the boil and consequently mixing even more metaphors. On the gripping hand, we can give some tired players a rest and give some more big-game experience to some of the fringe players.

Player of the match: Sam James

Attendance: 8,579



Photographer and science geek. Rugby fan (Sale Sharks).