Revenge can be sweet, especially in response to round two’s bore-fest that Falcons nicked in the dying minutes. By comparison, this was a competent performance that Sale never looked like losing. What it wasn’t, though, was exciting.
Well, OK, the first fifteen minutes were pretty good and the omens suggested a bit of a try-fest to come, with lots of enterprise from Sale and a couple of magic tries from Marland and Lood.
Never trust omens…
We were all expecting a second try bonus point after that early onslaught, but it was more than an hour before they recorded the third try. Four penalties in that time kept the scoreboard healthily in credit, so there was no repeat of last week’s rectal callisthenics, but neither was there anything to set the heart racing with anticipation, either.
In fact, sitting here writing this, I’m struggling to remember anything that happened in that 60-minute period between de Jager’s try and Matavesi giving Falcons a bit of hope before Hammers squashed it a couple of minutes later. I mean, the teams shared seven penalty goals (four for Sale, three for Newcastle) and WillGriff got himself binned (when will it sink in that clearing out a ruck by hurtling in from distance is not going to fly any more?), but there was nothing there to really stick in the mind other than an impression of a lot of back-and-forth and – once again – immense defending by Sale.
But, oh, those first fifteen minutes…
The foam had barely settled on my beer before Faf pulled out a near-mirror image of last week’s pass to Byron. This week, Marland was on the receiving end of a fizzer and danced neatly along the touchline to score in the left corner. AJ converted with a cracker of a touchline conversion.
Ten minutes later, it was time for AJ to produce a moment of magic. The ball went out to Josh on the right touchline, he passed it back to AJ who was immediately bundled into touch by a Falcons defender. It was what happened in the second before he went into touch that was the magic bit: you could see him look at his right foot, which was about to hit the touchline and balletically pull it back infield, simultaneously flicking a no-look pass behind his back into Lood’s massive paws. It was then just a matter of Lood sidestepping the defender and flopping over the line for the try. It would have been the icing on the cake if AJ could have converted but, alas, wide right is entirely the wrong spot for a right-footed kicker.
My notes for the next hour of the game are “gone a bit pedestrian after the tries”; “kicking duel”; “still a bit flat” and “good defence with 14 men”. Which, I think, pretty much sums it up.
The best entertainment was reserved for the last five – well, ten – minutes. Matavesi scored for Newcastle to bring them to eight points in arrears, but Sale almost immediately struck back with Marland feeding Hammers for a fairly simple score, which Rob duPreez converted.
That pretty much took us to full time, but Newcastle refused to give up, even though they couldn’t even get a losing bonus, being fifteen points down. There was some furious back-and-forth, during which Sale went oh, so close to getting the bonus point try, denied only by a wayward offload which gave the initiative back to Newcastle.
But then, four minutes past the eighty, knock-on and “that’s all folks”. Another good win, but the lack of try bonus points may do for us in the end, I fear. Four times this season we’ve scored three tries but failed to go that one extra. If we had converted those four threes into bonus points, we’d have the same number as Quins and be two points ahead of them instead of two points behind.
And that’s about it. I don’t really have much to add after this game that hasn’t been said before. Lood was awesome, Faf was sprightly, Marland still impresses, the defence is immense…
Northampton away will be a sterner test and more a measure of where this team currently is. Let’s see if I’m still thinking “not much to add” after that.