Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Sale 40 Bristol 7

Part two of the attempt to regain lost ground was achieved comfortably and at a relative canter.

Yes, Bristol’s team was “weakened”; that’s their problem, not Sale’s. A team placed second in the table should be able to field a competitive second team. And, to give them their due, they played with great heart and never gave up trying.

It’s hard to judge a team’s performance against inexperienced opposition: no sensible team in that situation is going to exert itself more than is necessary, which is why Sale won without really breaking sweat, rather than building up a cricket score and risking pointless injury in the process.

Bristol never really threatened Sale’s line — their only score came from a fortuitous interception — but they tackled well and tried hard. In truth, it’s difficult to remember them doing anything of note, other than the impression gained from watching that here was a scratch team trying their best, but not coming up to snuff.

That said, it’s not like Sale were up against a team of under–18s. Let’s give them some credit for running in six tries against Premiership opposition.

And what fine tries they were. A deft little no-look flick out of the hand by Dan to Luke. Denny gathering a loose ball on the half-way to sprint home. A wonderful bit of interplay in the tramlines between Denny, Manu and Jean-Luc to finally get the ball to Faf for another dash to the line. Sam smashing his way over out wide. A neat move from Faf to AJ to Luke for number 5. And then a really smart inside pop from Faf to Marland to round it off. Add to that the seventh that so nearly was — Luke denied a hat-trick only by a slightly greasy, awkwardly bobbling ball — and you have a decent performance that summarily dispatched our closest rivals for the home semi-final place. Forget top spot: Exeter are so far ahead now that the fight is all about the other three places. Even Sarries, had they not been deducted 105 points, would have a hard time catching them up.

Given that they weren’t exactly pushed, how do things look now?

The line out has improved — at least, Akker’s throwing is a bit more consistent — and the scrum held up well. I would have some worries about that particular front row against some of the big guns but, even so, it won’t have done the likes of Morozov or Rodd any harm to get that time under their belts.

In the loose, Akker was immense. He was everywhere and even pushing the Currys in the turnover stakes. I can almost forgive him the occasional wayward dart. Ben was showing the watching Eddie Jones that, maybe, his first instinct of picking Ben over Tom was the correct one. No, we should say: showing Eddie that picking one and not the other is… sub-optimal.

Faf was starting to look like the player we know he is. We have to remember that, before the Quins match, he’d only played 20 minutes of competitive rugby this year.

Manu and Rohan are going to be having a tussle for the bosher role. We did get to see the pair of them together, but the game was won by then, so we didn’t really get a feel for what it would be like having two (very mobile) piles of bricks in the centre of the park. I think Ioan Lloyd will remember his introduction to Rohan for a while, though.

Luke James continues to be Luke James and I’m convinced that he will overshadow his brother in the long term. Fatherhood seems to agree with Marland; he’s looking sharp, getting stuck in to the tackles and bulling his way through defenders. Anything to get away from a screaming baby, I suppose. 😉

Single-figure penalty count. There’s the biggest improvement. Whether it’s the refs backing off a little (it isn’t) or that teams are finally adapting, there’s no doubt that, across all games, the new interpretations are now having a positive effect. I believe Sale adopted a rule of no more than three at the breakdown as a way to minimise the risk of getting pinged, and it seemed to work. Keep it up.

Five games to go: three home, two away. Away games are Leicester and Northampton with home games against Sarries, Bath and Worcester. All these games are winnable, but will almost certainly be much more difficult than this one. Squad selection is going to be key here. Dimes has, I think, got it right over the last couple of games — a “stronger” team for the home matches and the “weaker” for away. But he’s been canny in that the “weaker” team still contains sufficient clout that the opposition can’t relax (ask Wasps!). That means the home team is not necessarily the optimal selection, but it should be able to see off most visiting teams.

We’ve got second place back. We’re fully capable of keeping it. Let’s go…



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