This one took us through the looking glass into an alternative reality where Sale, having lost the first half, rally in the second to outmuscle the opposition and snatch victory.
Having suffered two games watching Sale crumble in the second half to give up a deserved, if tenuous, lead, this time it looked as we weren’t even going to get that comfort of a decent first half.
At the quarter hour mark, Gloucester had had 80% of the possession, almost all the territory and the only score, a penalty after five minutes.
AJ levelled the scores, but on 21 minutes, Glos scored their first try to go 8–3 up. Miraculously, Sale managed to get enough territory for AJ to kick a second penalty a couple of minutes later to keep us somehow, and against all reason, still in touch with them.
At about the half-hour mark, I have a scrawled note on the pad I keep for jotting down thoughts about the game that just says “Oh, FFS”. Then there’s another note that asks the question “Is Jono a net benefit or liability?” It’s a measure of the frustration I was feeling at that point that, had that been real pencil and paper, rather than an iPad, there would have been bits of paper and shards of graphite decorating my front room, rather than a few choice Anglo-Saxon epithets.
Do I really need to point out what it was that so ruffled my normally serene countenance? OK: if it wasn’t bad enough that Jono managed to reverse a decision that would have helped us get some needed territory and possession with an act of childishness, he compounded it a couple of minutes later by shoulder-charging a Gloucester player whilst they were attacking from the penalty that he had just gifted them.
I still think that Jono is a net benefit to the team, but much more of that sort of thing and I may revise my opinion. Not just because it deprives us of a player for 10 minutes (or, worse, the rest of the match), but because it’s giving us a reputation as a team of cheap-shot bullies (q.v. Dan later on in the second half plus, of course, Jean-Luc in previous games). I don’t want us to be reviled for that, I want us to be admired as a team that plays rugby.
Anyway, Jono goes to the bin, Gloucester add 10 points to their score and I’m sinking further into the “do I really want to carry on watching this?” mode. But then AJ, bless him, kicks another penalty and we’re going in at half time only seven points down, when Glos could (and should) so easily have been out of sight. And I’ve got nothing better to do, so second half it is.
And what a turn-around it was. Sale came looking much more determined, focussed and energetic than the previous 40 minutes would have suggested. AJ pulled us back to within a point and Roebuck…
At the time, I put a comment on Facebook “Has Roebuck touched the ball yet?”. (The stats for him read: 10m from 1 carry; so, at the time I asked, no.) Did he score? The heart says of course he did, only his knee was on the ground and that was infield, the lower half of his leg was in the air. Watching a replay, it looks as if a bit more of his calf is touching the ground, so he may have been in touch. The thing is, you couldn’t see clearly, so it should have been what they call in cricket “umpire’s call”, i.e. insufficient grounds to overturn the referee’s on-field decision. And what was that decision? You know, I don’t recall Dickson ever actually giving one. I don’t think he said “on-field decision is (no-)try”. The TMO usually repeats that, so it tends to stick in the mind. If he didn’t give a decision and only asked “try or no try?”, then I think we need a protocol that demands that the referee make a decision before referring it. Had Dickson said “try”, then I don’t think it could have been honestly scrubbed off. Conversely, a “no try” decision would also have had to stand.
Anyway, it wasn’t given, Roebuck came off almost immediately and we were greeted with the first of two welcome returns to the field as the Horse trotted on, followed a bit later by the lanky lumberings of a certain Beaumont of that ilk. Fourteen months out: the guy must have climbing the walls.
Is it something in the psyche of South Africans? Or, I suppose I should say, South African forwards since I haven’t seen it from Rob, Faf or Rohan. Mind you, I don’t have any qualms about Akker, Coenie, Cobus or JP (at the time of writing), so is it just the du Preez twins and Jono that seem to be subject to red mist stupidity? That Dan remained on the pitch is due only to the referee’s interpretation that a moving arm was attempting to wrap, otherwise he could well have been joining his twin at home for a couple of weeks (still might, of course, having now been cited for the tackle). That Slater also got away with what appears to be a shoulder direct to Akker’s conk is irrelevant (and he’s been cited as well, so maybe there will be a bit of justice there, too). I’ve said before that, if we are to get a new head honcho, I want one who can instil an atmosphere of aggressive play but without the stupidity. And this is why; had Dickson decided differently, we probably would not have scored later (sorry, spoiler!) and would now be rueing yet another defeat and slide down the table.
Get a grip, guys. Play hard, but cut out the psycho stuff, eh?
Anyway, three minutes to go, four points down after a Gloucester penalty, and it’s “Beaumont, you beauty”. Picks the ball out of a ruck on the line and dives over the top for the try. A cracking conversion by AJ and we’re three points ahead with hardly any time on the clock.
Look, quite frankly, I think Prem rugby (at least) have to get a grip and mandate that non-playing staff must not touch the ball unless and until it has gone past the boundary hoardings, so is no longer feasibly available for a quick throw. And then only for the purpose of returning said ball to the field of play.
I disagree with Flats on this matter, though. Yes, the water carrier needed to be sent off, but I think Dickson was quite correct to also yellow card Twelvetrees and award the penalty to Sale, for the simple reason that it’s a common principle that retaliation for an offence gets punished and overturns any penalty for the original offence (see Jono earlier).
So, three “controversial” incidents in one game by Sale took a large part of the gloss off of the win for me. I know that there are many people who will not be particularly concerned, and I wouldn’t be if they were isolated events. But they’re not, they are increasingly looking like standard behaviour and that’s not what I want from my team. I want a team that’s hard and aggressive but without being brutal and cynical, and I hope that Deacs or whoever follows him can reverse what is starting to look like a worrying trend. Perhaps it’s just down to the frustration of the tight defeats we’ve suffered this year and not a pattern of behaviour, but I’m still a bit concerned. We’ll see how it looks if we get a few good wins under our belts.
But, enough. Look forward. Worcester at the AJ Bell next. Another need-to-win, to get some momentum going. We really ought to win this, but it is a potential banana skin if we’re not careful. I’d keep AJ in the team, as balance for the threat of Duncan Weir as much as anything else, and I’d have McGuigan and Yarde on the wings, with Roebuck coming on later. I don’t think playing RdP at 13 works, so, if Rohan’s still not fit, it’s Sam2 in the centres, with Luke at full back if Hammers isn’t fit.
Bring it on.