Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: La Rochelle 45 Sale 21

In the end, it was not to be. The bubble burst, the dream gone, a rude awakening.

Did anyone genuinely expect us to be in the semi-final draw? That we reached the quarter-finals was astonishing enough, given that we fluked our way into the round of sixteen.

It took 41 minutes, though. For the first half I thought, with the exception of the first (X-rated) scrum, that Sale pretty much held their own and were unlucky to be behind, especially after the second try (yes, that went forward off a deliberate slap-down – I don’t understand how the officials saw it otherwise).

To come back the way they did at the end of the half, with a lovely move resulting in a try for Sam James, was testament to a bit of fighting spirit and a desire to never give up.

Ah, but a minute after the break and the sucker punch. Ruhle slides through a vast hole in the defence (TC at fault, there?) slips a couple of despairing tackles and goes in for an easy seven. That was when I think I admitted that we weren’t going to win this. When Ruhle got his second after a wicked bounce bamboozled a badly-positioned Hammersley, the brakes came off and we were never going to stop the La Rochelle juggernaut.

And then they just bullied us around the park, scoring twice more in the process. At this point I was wondering whether we’d gone a stage too far. Was this the measure of the team? Up there, but liable to flounder at the critical moment? Forever the bridesmaid? Always destined to come up against that one team or event that scuppers us?

But somehow, in the dying minutes of the game, Sale found another spark and played some delightful rugby, full of cutting passes, killer lines and ending in a well-deserved try, finished off by (who else?) Horse.

Encouraging, great to watch, but of no consequence for the game, I hope that they take heart from that brief spell and decide that, yes, they can do it against the best, and that they will do it again, whoever they face.

I’m not disheartened by this result. Oh, at the time, I wanted to kick something but, on reflection, it’s a knockout game, these things happen and we were up against one of the best teams in the competition.

One thing still niggles at me, though. Axe makes a big thing about Sale’s ‘Northern’ credentials: before the game, he was being bullish about the physical threat posed by La Rochelle and basically saying ‘bring it’. It’s all very well being a team based on a physical game but, for all the big buggers we have, they had some absolute monsters. At the back of my mind I do wonder if things would have come out differently if, instead of relying on good old ‘northern grit’, we rather utilised a bit of good old ‘northern pragmatism’. By that I mean, rather than accept the challenge, do a Kobayashi Maru on them and change the game by making their big buggers run around all the time, rather than try to out-muscle them. I know that’s not the way we work, but we need more strings to our bow if we’re to compete at the highest level.

So, onward and upward, learning experience, concentrate on the league and all the other things you say to help get over a disappointment, even if it was expected.

I’m not going to talk about who did what or how well. As I said, the whole team worked hard and got bullied in equal measure. Certain players will come in for inevitable criticism, whilst others will escape it, despite committing glaring errors of their own.

I suspect we’ll get a bit of rotation for the Gloucester game coming up, but let’s make sure this one gets another tick in the ‘W’ column, eh? Definite banana skin in the making here…



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