It’s like déjà vu all over again. A one-word summary of this game might simply be: “frustrating”.
Frustrating because we’ve seen it all before: get a decent start, look good in attack, build up a lead. Opposition changes tactics at half-time and we look lost, unable to adjust effectively to the new state of the game. Result: let the opposition back into the game, get frustrated with an inability to recreate the success of the first half, do something daft and blow it. Same old, same old.
With four games succumbing to the current nonsense, the whole complexion of the tournament had changed, with places up for grabs that one would have expected to be secured elsewhere. All of a sudden, the winner of this game had a chance of going fifth or sixth, with maybe more to come.
The chance of getting a firm hold on at least a Challenge Cup quarter final position should have been incentive enough to go for broke for a maximum win.
All the more galling, then, to go so far off the boil after such a promising start with good tries from Denny (how was that not forward?) and Rohan.
Unless Sam was hollering “outside you!” at top volume right from the outset, I’m not going to blame Rohan for butchering a possible third try. He was drifting infield, so it was only natural for his first look to be inward: it’s the less risky option. Passing outside when drifting inside is going against the grain, so to speak, and you really need to know that someone is there, so it’s natural to check inside first and then outside. By the time he did check, the pass was not on and the sensible option was to go into contact and recycle.
He was also unlucky that the final pass for his would-have-been second try was forward (and, yes, it was clearly forward. You didn’t need to see it leave the hand, it clearly travelled forwards in the air).
On the plus side, we weren’t plagued by silly errors every couple of phases. Also, 100% line-out. Woo-hoo! On the down side, the scrum looked a bit shaky. Or, at least, we kept getting pinged at scrum time (not necessarily the same thing).
I’m going to be a bit controversial, here: I actually thought Sale were the more threatening team for the whole match. Now, before you cry “but we were rubbish second half”, remember what I said last week: “threatening” is not the same as “effective”. There was always more potential in the Sale attack than in Edinburgh’s, but we couldn’t unlock it and, in the second half, couldn’t cope with Edinburgh’s improved defensive structure. Consider that Edinburgh’s only try came from a 5-metre line-out gifted to them by a brain fart. Other than that, they posed absolutely no threat to the Sale line; Sale’s defence had no particular problems coping with them all game.
What did for us… again; again and again and again and again… was discipline. Twelve penalties, four of them kickable, three of those converted. And what was really, really inexcusable was another act of utter stupidity to turn a non-threatening situation into the penalty that put them back into the lead for the last time. It was a nondescript ruck, there was no need to even bother going in for a clear-out, let alone clearing out with a shoulder to the head. Bloody lucky to escape with a yellow, in my opinion, although, given that there were only ten minutes left anyway, the colour made no real difference to the game.
There is, inevitably, a lot of discussion around concerning what should happen post-Diamond. I am not going to join in with the hysterical “Deaks out” (or “West out”, or “scapegoat du jour out”) blithering – mostly because I profoundly disagree. Let’s concentrate on who takes over from Dimes. The favourite among the fans seems to be Alex Sanderson, because he “knows Sale”, apparently. To which I would point out that he left Sale 15+ years ago. He also has no experience as head coach/DoR.
I’m not saying I think he’d be a bad choice – it’s entirely possible that he would be perfect, but we have some very specific needs right now in a head coach. We need someone who can instil a culture of discipline, of aggression without hot-headedness, of learning to play the referee, if necessary. We need someone who can help the team cultivate a sense of how to adjust to the changing state of the game: to respond when the opposition change their tactics and find ways to counter that change, to wrest control back and force the game to be played the way we want.
I don’t know if Alex can do that – he’s untested and we can’t afford to experiment. Personally, much as the heart would like to see an old Sale stalwart back at the club, my head says we need someone who’s been there, done that. I know Wasps faded in the latter days of his tenure, but Dai Young did a lot of good things in the years previously. Or someone with similar qualifications; I’m not invested in anyone specific, as long as they can bring the things we need in order to crack on.
My fear would be that someone like that would want to bring in their own staff and that our existing coaches would be out of a job through no fault of their own and not on any failure to deliver. For the record, I think Forshaw is one of, if not the, best defence coaches in the league. Dorian West has performed miracles with the forwards and Deaks… Deaks, I feel (on the basis of absolutely no evidence), has been – shall we say? – hampered by Dimes’s insistence on sticking to a game plan. I may be completely off target here, but I feel that Deaks has more to offer than we have seen over the last couple of years. I remember the early days, soon after he was brought in, when the attack was being praised for its novelty and inventiveness.
Finally, a couple of positives to end on: 1) despite losing, we went up two places and now occupy a Challenge Cup spot; 2) at least we’re not Harlequins.