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View from the armchair: Sale 27 Harlequins 19

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the final of any competition in any sport is rarely a showcase for the finer aspects of that sport. Or, to put it another way, finals are usually crap.

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View from the sofa: Sale 22 Bath 37

Let’s not pretend: that was poor.

Yes, I know we’re still fourth and only two points away from second. I know we’ve achieved amazing things this season. I’ve heard all the comforting phrases used to soften the disappointment of a performance that was dreadful when we needed amazing. Do you think Exeter fans or Saracens fans would console themselves with that after a bad defeat? Do you think the Sale players are consoling themselves with those thoughts? I hope not. Indeed, I’m damn sure they are inconsolable, knowing how much they buggered up just when they needed to front up.

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View from the armchair: Sale 24 Saracens 17

It’s hard to avoid descending into the “game of two halves” cliché when talking about this match but, really, if any game epitomised that hoary old phrase, it was this one.

I’ve been thinking for some while about how to write this report. Normally, they come fairly easily: there are things I want to talk about, phrases I want use, and it’s just a matter of adding sufficient extra words to make a coherent story.

But not this time. Not much stuck in the mind, which is a little unfair on the first half, which was full of vim and inventiveness. Errors aplenty, sure, but more good stuff to salivate over than things to criticise.

For instance, Morozov’s second-minute break that lead to a try for Postlethwaite, loads of good handling, offloads and running — Hammers seemed to beat at least one defender every time he got the ball. Scrums held up well, line-outs weren’t perfect, but neither were they a disaster. Further tries for Valery and Hammers seemed to be setting Sale up for a good win to cement second. Roebuck showed well and Langdon looked like a first-choice hooker in the making.

As I said, there were errors; the fumbled restart from Poss’s try leading directly to a try for Segun, a few hospital passes, the occasional dropped ball, but overall, the half-time stats showed Sale well on top and with a deserved 21–7 lead.

But then, oh dear, that second half. What happened? Saracens changed their game plan and Sale didn’t cope with it is what happened. An all-too familiar refrain: the opposition change tactics and we fail to modify ours to counter. They came out more aggressively, put us off our stride and never let us recover. This seeming inability to adapt needs addressing, I think. And it often seems to happen at the break: the opposition come out having been given a rollicking and instructions on how to fix it, we come out business as usual. Which would be fine if we recognised the change in the other lot and were able to wrestle the initiative back.

I will pass over the decision to go for the posts in the 77th minute with a roll of the eyes and leave it at that.

I don’t like feeling flat after a win. I especially dislike not really wanting to celebrate keeping second place. I want to be jumping around, cheering and hollering at how well we’re doing compared with just a few seasons ago. But the simple fact is that, in the immediate aftermath, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to celebrate that win the way it surely deserved. If the two halves had been the other way around, I think I would still be sporting a huge grin several days afterwards, but that capitulation in the second half, even though we still won, rather took the gloss off of it. Beat Bath on Sunday and all will be well again, I’m sure.

And, yes, in the end, it was a win. Against Saracens — a rarity in itself. Four in a row — another rarity. Back to second in the table after Bristol briefly went ahead the evening before. Fate still in our own hands and all that. The stats tell us that we dominated the game, even taking that second half into account. Let’s take all the pleasure and confidence we can from that, but I don’t agree with anyone who says that we should ignore the cliché in the room and only focus on the positives. Going off the boil like that is the reason I haven’t been able to evict that demon I mentioned last time. We got away with it — twice — and that’s a positive, but we shouldn’t be in the position of needing to get away with it; that’s a negative, and shouldn’t be glossed over.

There are four points between second and fifth; that’s squeaky bum time already. On the plus side, there are no more short turnarounds before the end of the season , so Sale can afford to go out all guns blazing every match, with no need to consider rotation. [ETA: the round 21 dates have been finalised, and there is a 5-day gap between rounds 21 and 22. I think we can still go all out for it, though]

Bris are only one point behind — we need three wins and two bonus points to guarantee they can’t snatch second place from us (ignoring the fact that they play Wasps next. Can we hope for Wasps to do us a favour? Still need three wins, though).

Ideally, we’ll get 5 against Bath, and Wasps and Bristol will draw with no bonus points to either side— I’m sorry, I must have nodded off: I was having a very pleasant dream.

Bath are looking good at the moment, we could struggle (or we could blow them out of the water — it’s so frustrating), but a win would give us a decent buffer over them, so we really do have a must-win here, for peace of mind, if not for any other reason. Wasps are fully capable of beating Brizz, and I’d expect them to score four tries doing it, so a 5-point win against Bath would help keep the gap between us.

Now, shut up, you irritating demon. It can be done.