Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Northampton 17 Sale 14

Perhaps it’s having been underdogs for so long that Sale can’t cope with dominating possession and territory. Maybe they need to feel under pressure to bring out the best in them.

Another frustrating game in which Sale dominated, but failed to capitalise on it. Even against 14 men and camped on the Saints’ line, they couldn’t quite go the extra metre. Instead – once again! – a defensive lapse allowed Northampton to score a sucker try against the flow of the game.

In the spirit of testing one’s hunches against reality, I put together a couple of scatter graphs of points scored and points conceded versus possession percentage.

Scatter plots of points for and points against versus possession after 13 games

Interesting, isn’t it? There’s less of an effect defensively but, in attack, there definitely seems to be a correlation between having the time to think about it and failing to actually achieve it. But this one – points difference against possession – is even starker.

Scatter plot of points difference versus posession after 13 games

This biggest win so far has come in the game with the least possession and the biggest defeat in the game with the second-highest amount of possession.

I hope and trust that there is method in Axe’s apparent madness – eight changes this time – and I suppose the fact that we’re still fourth suggests that things aren’t going off the rails yet.

Once again, though, this was a game where Sale were their own worst enemies. So many promising moves ended with a whimper as someone would knock on or get out of position and be done for holding on, or any one of a number of silly ways to end an attack. Like not getting the ball out of the scrum, but rather waiting for the penalty only to have the penalty given against you. Dumb. Dumber, given that the scrum was on Northampton’s 5-metre line…

Is it the lack of Curry or are we missing Rohan/Manu more? We rely so heavily on the big, boshing inside centre that we can’t cope with attacking any other way, it seems. Some of the most telling breaks came from the forwards in this match, most notably a lovely break from Dan which, had that been Rohan or Manu breaking through, might well have ended in a try. Possibly. Who knows? I do know that we have been without four key players for pretty much the whole season and it shows. Yet, despite that, we’re still fourth, and I’m going to keep coming back to that: however frustrating it may be on the day, however galling to let another one slip, we’re still fourth. Yes, third or second (or top!) would be so much better but, given recent history, the fact that we are still fourth going into the second half of the season and have only been out of the top four once so far is, to my mind, still a big positive.

We have a record of eight wins in 13. Two, three years ago we’d have been ecstatic at those sort of figures. It’s like when you get a new computer. You knew that the old one wasn’t performing as well as it could and the new one, for while, seems like greased lightning. It doesn’t take long, though, for familiarity to set in and you start to perceive even the new one as being a bit sluggish and annoying. So it is now with Sale. We’ve got used to a bit of success but now we’re starting to see minor slip-ups as catastrophes because they’re below what we’ve become used to.

That’s not to say that blowing a game like this doesn’t concern me: it does. A title-chasing team should not be having more than one banana skin a season. And this was a banana skin, make no mistake. Northampton were there for the taking, but a toothless attack couldn’t hack it.

Which is peculiar, given the quality we have in the team. Is there still some lingering self-doubt, some vestige of Imposter Syndrome about the team? Let’s hope Axe’s trick cyclists can do some good.

Player of note: Arron Reed. I thought he did himself a lot of favours out there. He was quick, busy and looking for work. He put in a couple of big defensive hits, one of them definitely try-saving and all round looked a good prospect for the future.

Irish up next at the AJ Bell. Another chance to do the double on a team. Should able to do it as long as we get less than 40% possession…



Photographer and science geek. Rugby fan (Sale Sharks).