Exciting, engrossing, enthralling, epic. These are just some of the words that absolutely nobody used to describe this game.
To be honest, I’m not even sure I want to write about it: I’d rather just expunge the memory – has anyone got one of those Men in Black flashy thingies that I can borrow?
Let’s draw a veil over the events of the game; suffice to say that kicks and penalties dominated a fractured, tedious affair, especially in the first half. This appeared to be a deliberate ploy by Newcastle, which Sale played into. Rather than have a tactic for making the kicks less of a useful tactic, we tried to match them and got embroiled in a game that does not suit our style of play.
Add to that the re-emergence of too, too many basic handling errors, a mis-firing line-out, and some world-class stupidity and you have a game that will live on the memory like a bad meal at a filthy greasy spoon. By the way, I trust Dimes has fined Jean-Luc a substantial amount for that act of childish petulance that cost us the chance to square the game at 3–3; instead of which, we ended up defending our own line again.
And then, at the end, I really thought that we’d nicked a game that neither side deserved to win when Cobus scored after one of the very few decent moves of the night.
It was inevitable, though, that a three-point lead wasn’t going to be enough with five minutes to go and Falcons duly scored with the clock in the red and Ben C. out of the game on the ground on the other side of the pitch.
Look, I’m not going to start tearing my hair out over this (for obvious reasons, some might say). This was a poor game that we lost by two points at a ground that we rarely do well at against a team that had just beaten Bath at The Rec (although beating Bath is not looking like much of an achievement at the moment).
So why was that so poor, when the previous week had been a pretty good game?
Well, there was no Jonno this week. If that is the reason our play went down the toilet, then there’s something seriously wrong under the surface. No team should be so reliant on a single player to bring out the best in them. Fortunately, I don’t think that is the reason we were so poor. Jonno’s a trooper, of that there’s no doubt, but the team without him still put in 154 tackles and only missed 9 (cf. 10 missed out of 85 by Falcons). And carries: 25 for 192 metres compared with 185 metres from 31 carries by Newcastle.
By several metrics, we actually outperformed Newcastle. Just not where it really mattered: retaining possession, winning line-outs, not giving away penalties at critical points.
No, Newcastle had a plan to nullify the threat from our backline and to match us up front. And it worked. We took the offer to play that way and never managed to wrestle the game around to a way that suits us. This, I think, is partly down to a lack of any real plan ‘B’, but also because our horrendous penalty count nips any attempt to change the style of play in the bud. We can’t get any momentum and keep gifting the initiative back to the other team. Until we fix this chronic issue with giving away penalties, this sort of thing will continue to happen.
Still fourth in the table, so that’s not bad, although I worked out that it’s possible we could drop to 9th after the next round, if everything goes against us (although that eventuality does require Leicester to get a bonus point win at Sandy Park. Stop sniggering in the back, there).
But, win at London Irish and we could go back to second (I’m assuming Exeter will take at least four points). Not a given, but Irish didn’t look particularly great on Sunday and we should be able to take them on if we don’t keep surrendering the initiative with stupid penalties. Otherwise, I might be tempted to switch to another match (England-France) for about the first time ever.