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.
I’m not one to accuse anybody of not wanting to win, and I’ll fight anyone who suggests that anybody on the playing or coaching staff doesn’t have a fire and passion in their belly for the team. I accept that sometimes, it just doesn’t happen on the day, despite everybody’s best efforts.
I am just incredibly, deeply disappointed that this team couldn’t pull the performance that we know they’re capable of out of the bag at such a crucial juncture. I’m disappointed that we spent a quarter of the match down to 14 men, because of a couple of brain farts from senior players who should know better. I’m disappointed that we still can’t hit a sodding barn door with a line-out throw.
Have we been given a false sense of expectation? Six months (albeit artificial) in second place gives you a sense that that’s where we should be, but was second an over-achievement for this squad at its current state of development? Is fourth or fifth a more realistic assessment of where they are relative to the other teams?
Let’s just go back to what I said in my first match report of the season (an absolute age ago, it seems):
If we can get a full season out of Ashton and Rohan and if Yarde is back to full blazing speed (and if Denny wakes up quicker than he did last season), then we should consider anything less than top six a failure, given the quality on display, even when ring rusty.
I’d say top four, but there are enough new players and sufficient disruption this season that I would consider that a bonus, rather than an expectation.
So, I’m holding my hands up: I’ve been sucked in by the excitement. I’ve allowed myself to get carried away with a few exceptional results and have started to expect things from the team that we shouldn’t really be expecting for another year or so. Building Rome, and all that. I (we?) maybe tend to forget that this is still a newish team, still getting to know each other.
Maybe fourth would be a bonus this season, and we should hold off on expectations of a comfortable second until next season or the one after. Maybe this team in a year’s time would have gelled better, adapted better, and won that game because they would be so much more familiar with each other. Maybe a season without an enforced six-month gap would have been different.
It was still a bloody awful performance, though.