Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Gloucester 17 Sale 23

Second in the table. Say it again: second. In the table. Halfway through the season (is it really only halfway?) and, without ever being consistent, Sale find themselves—almost apologetically—in nosebleed territory.

But temper that heady excitement with a dollop of caution: the perch is quite fragile. Before this match, four other teams could overtake Sale, potentially pushing them down to 6th. Such are the margins this year. A win at Kingsholm would do two things: secure second place for another weekend and soften, to an extent, the pain of that missed kick in the dying seconds back at the AJ Bell.

It was a dark and stormy night…

After a couple of days of relatively dry weather, during which we all became seriously concerned for the state of the country’s reservoirs, the rain thankfully returned to assuage all fears of drought and running rugby. It was one of those nights when the television directors are contractually obliged to keep showing shots of the floodlights so that you can see how filthy the weather really is. My armchair has never felt so comfortable.

So, with a pint of a rather nice IPA in one hand and a bowl of Bombay mix near the other, I settled down to watch the BT pundits bravely abandon their touchline punditing positions for more sheltered locations.

Dimes, amongst others, had predicted that this match would be decided by the team that made the fewest mistakes. Presumably with this in mind, both teams were being very cagey for the opening exchanges. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that this game was not going to go down in the annals of free-flowing try fests.

Thirteen minutes in, we got the first opportunity for points in the game as Sale were awarded a penalty in a (just) kickable position. In a kind of perverse mirror of the reverse fixture, Rob du Preez’s kick bounced back off the upright.

A further 13 minutes after that, a second opportunity arrived, which Rob kicked to get the scoreboard started. Ironically, a few minutes later, a long-range kick from Twelvetrees also bounced back off the post.

Half an hour in, we got the first of those significant errors. Sale attacking, an attempted grubber ballooned off of Cipriani’s shin. Gloucester failed to gather the ball and a deft kick through by Horse gave Luke James the chance to dive on the ball for the first try. An excellent conversion by Rob du Preez (a man with a moustache only Nic White could love) from wide out right gave Sale the 10–0 lead that they took into the break.

So, a healthy lead, having played into the wind. Dare we get our hopes up? It was 10–0 to Sale at half-time back in Salford and we know how that turned out. Also, Gloucester have something of a reputation for rallying in the second half.

So, it was a big boost for Sale fans five minutes into the second half when Bryn Evans scored a try from a maul after a 5-metre lineout. 15–0 up and we were starting to think that, just maybe, this could be our night.

But this is Sale, and they are always capable of the brain fart to blow even a lead like that. And so we embarked on a mad 20 minutes that saw a penalty, a yellow card, three tries and a glaring miss.

First, Gloucester got on the board with a (dubiously awarded) penalty. Then WillGriff tried Wayne Barnes’s patience and was given a 10-minute rest. Gloucester added 7 points from the lineout following the penalty, and, suddenly, it was a five-point game at 10–15. Oh-oh.

But, then, another significant error. Following the restart, Gloucester were attempting to get out of their 22, when Cipriani tried a pass that was never on. As the tackle came in, the ball bobbled on to the ground and Marland swooped on it to run in for the try. Back to a 10-point game.

For a while; because, soon after, Twelvetrees got a (dubious to those wearing Sale goggles) try after an apparent knock-on by Banahan. With the conversion, it was now a 3-point game and we still had 17 minutes to go.

Sale should have put the game to bed with 12 minutes left as Hammersley had a fairly routine run-in but, for reasons that may forever remain mysterious, chose to pass out to Yarde. Yarde, meanwhile, having failed to grow the extra three feet needed to actually catch the pass, was left wondering what just happened; a sentiment echoed by all watching Sale fans.

A couple of minutes later, a Rob du Preez penalty put Sale six points ahead, but we were all very aware that a converted try could snatch the game from Sale at the death. And, for a while there, it looked as if Gloucester might do just that. But Sale’s defence, as so often before, came to the rescue. Gloucester knocked on, Sale scrum, time up, job done.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming

If ever there was a game that defined “team performance”, this was it. Jonno was awarded man of the match but only because someone has to get it. Honestly, though, this was down to the team as a unit. Everyone played their part and it seems that the lessons learned a couple of weeks ago at Saracens have been well and truly learned.

And, yes, the team that made the fewest errors won. Two monster errors by Gloucester for Sale tries versus a bit of a cock-up by Sale to let Twelvetrees in.

And now, if rumours are to be believed, Faf and Lood will be available for the game against Irish on Friday. I suspect that Lood at least will start on the bench. Faf may be among the substitutes, but there is an argument to start him if he’s fit enough to play. Wilf has been doing a magnificent job over the last few weeks but, for me, he still lacks that bit of spark to get the opposition wondering what the hell’s going to happen next (and probably most of the Sale team, too, if we’re honest).

Otherwise, I’d keep the team pretty much as is. Solomona or Ashton in for Horse, if he’s with Scotland. There’s certainly no loss of quality there. Marland keeps his place because he’s on fire and, as such, will pose even more of a threat.

I’d love to see Bryn and Lood on together – just because I’d be intrigued to see what sort of a mess they could make of the opposition’s lineout.

Meanwhile, I am not thinking about the playoffs. I am not thinking about the playoffs. I am not thinking about the playoffs…



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