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.
That’s probably a bit harsh for this game, but it did suffer from an exaggerated ebb and flow of fortune caused by penalties going against one team or the other in phases. So we started with a string of penalties against Quins, then Sale were getting pinged off the park, then it swung back to Quins transgressing repeatedly.
The effect of this was that the team not currently on the receiving end could advance down field with touch kicks and any attempt by the other team to put some moves together would quickly end with a sharp blow on referee Foley’s whistle.
This was not a great game. It wasn’t a particularly good game, but context is everything: last week, a similar Sale performance against Bath ended in defeat, which made it seem worse than it probably was (check the stats for that game and see which team had more possession and made more metres), whereas victory in a game with similar stats feels much better, and we’re able to relegate the exasperation to those periods where Sale were under the cosh, and relish the good parts when we were on top.
I say “good parts”, but even that is down to context: there wasn’t a lot to store in the memory banks for future enjoyment (well, there was one thing – more on that later).
I don’t want to dwell on negatives from this game, after all we won the cup! So, let’s ignore the passes that went behind their intended recipient, the dropped balls, the silly penalties. Let’s even ignore that horrendous penalty reversal, which I hope Mr. Foley is losing sleep over, and let’s look at the good bits.
Good bit the first: Curtis Langdon. Would have been man of the match had not the person choosing MoM been an ex-back. Played the full 80, didn’t miss a line-out and scored the first try. Possibly guilty of a bit of over-enthusiasm in the early stages, but settled down after his try and had a significant impact all round.
Good bit the second: Cobus Wiese. Looked as if he’d been here since the start of the season, rather than the start of September. I can see him filling Bryn’s boots — not necessarily as a line-out disruptor, but as pack boss, a leader by example.
Good bit the third: Rob du Preez. It’s said that Rob is a confidence player, and that’s probably true. His confidence must have been given a big boost to be handed the starting 10 jersey for the most important match of the season so far, and it showed in a level of composure that has been lacking recently. That he kicked all five goals, only one of which was relatively simple, says a lot about his state of mind on the night.
And the award for memorable moment of the game has to go to the blond imp fooling 29 other players by skipping through the narrowest of gaps between ruck and touchline to deliver a telling sucker punch in the dying minutes. Before that moment of magic, we had a 1-point lead with five minutes to go and, as any Sale fan will attest, 1 point plus 5 minutes to go = Squeaky Bum Time™. With the brilliant touchline conversion, it became an eight-point gap with bugger-all time left. They had done it; turned around a seemingly inevitable defeat and romped home to a deserved win.
And, yes, it was a deserved win. I’ve seen comments that the better side lost. Not true. Don’t let the fact that the game was pretty much ruined as a spectacle by all the penalties (30 in all: 15 each side) overshadow some good performances in the bits where the players were allowed to, you know, play. Yes, watching it, I was sinking ever deeper into the pit of despair during that period when we went from 10–0 up to 10–19 down and couldn’t seem to breathe without getting pinged. With the benefit of 24 hours hindsight (and the win, of course; see above re: context), I can be more mellow about it.
Because the stats tell the story: we had more possession and territory, we made more metres, more clean breaks, missed (significantly) fewer tackles…
No, the better team won.
Those stats in full (they make interesting reading)
- Possession: Sale 58% Quins 42%
- Territory: Sale 61% Quins 39%
- Metres: Sale 360 Quins 121
- Carries: Sale 48 Quins 24
- Passes: Sale 126 Quins 79
- Tackles: Sale 92 Quins 137
- Missed: Sale 5 Quins 24
- Clean breaks: Sale 11 Quins 2
- Turnovers*: Sale 15 Quins 8
- Penalties: Sale 15 Quins 15
- Lineouts Sale 17 Quins 17
* Hmm. Is that turnovers gained, or turnovers conceded? I don’t remember it being that way round if it’s turnovers gained.
And then we have the three most important statistics.
- Tries: Sale 3 Quins 1
- Points: Sale 27 Quins 19
- Cups: Sale 1 Quins 0
Finally, wasn’t it just the best, most moving, thing to see all the team wearing t-shirts in memory of Bleasey when picking up their medals and the cup?
And maybe, ultimately, that was the difference. Quins wanted it for a guy who’s going off to California in a couple of weeks; Sale wanted it for Alan Blease.