They’re going to send me to an early grave, I swear. How many more times this season are we going to end up watching from behind the sofa, heart racing, buttocks clenched fit to crack a walnut?
But I’ll repeat what I said last week: not that long ago, they’d have lost that game.
Once the heart has slowed to something approaching normal and the adrenalin has flushed from the system, there’s time for a bit of sober reflection. Look at it this way: they’ve won playing badly, they’ve won with several first-choice players missing, they’ve won playing relatively inexperienced players in key positions. These are not minor accomplishments.
Oh, I know it can be hard to watch – but isn’t that part of why we watch? Where’s the fun in winning easily every time? – and you do occasionally want to see a comfortable win, just as a bit of light relief, but afterwards… To be able to look back on all those conflicting emotions and remember that they won. Again.
And it’s that ‘again’ that’s important here. This is not a one-off, this is a sign of the future: not the bum-clenching, the winning. The bum-clenching comes because this is early days for the new regime: feet-finding, option-checking and so on. Mistakes will be made, rotation will be over-done, games will be tight that possibly shouldn’t have been.
Compare the result of making nine changes here with making eight or ten earlier. Those previous games, the team looked a bit lost and so they lost. Now, we’re seeing the results of time spent building that new… team spirit, I suppose. This game was hard – harder than it should have been – but they won.
And I expect the collective gluteuses (gluteii?) will not get any relaxation for the next five to seven matches, either. This is a team in transition, that’s building something new and more permanent, and we have to expect that it’s going to be a slow improvement, especially given that this is all happening whilst playing in important competitions. I think that next season, with a rest and a proper pre-season period behind them, is going to be the one we’ll all be watching in anticipation, rather than in hopeful dread.
As for the game itself, it was not great: too many mistakes by both sides. Nine tries, sure, but they mostly came from mistakes or bad bounces. Only a couple of them were the result of really classy play – Arron Reed’s following a cracking break from Tom Curry, for example, or Hougaard’s third.
Worcester’s first and second tries came from a horrendous bounce (it wasn’t Hammersley who got stitched up by it, which is why you couldn’t hear knives being sharpened afterwards) and from a serious case of not playing to the whistle. Coenie, for Sale, really had no business scoring, either – any half-decent defence should have seen that threat snuffed out – and Dan’s try came from Worcester expecting a frontal assault and not preparing for a diagonal run.
Otherwise, a game that refuses to stick in the memory as other than a win. Even now, writing this a couple of days later, I’m struggling to remember what happened. And that’s with the benefit of the notes I took at the time. Chalk it up as win and move on to the next game…
Five more games, three home, two away, three against the other top four teams. This is so hard to call: <mumbledy> years experience watching Sale says we’ll run out of puff at the end and just miss out once again. Recent experience says that this something we haven’t seen since 2005–6: a team that can go out and win the hard games.
Looking at Exeter’s run-in, I can’t see them dropping enough points for Sale to be able to make second place, so I think a key game is going to be round 21, at home to Harlequins, who are likely to be our immediate challengers for 3rd/4th place. But, even then, we still have to beat Leicester at home, get revenge on Bath away and try to do the double on Bristol. So, nothing difficult, there, then.
All-in-all, my little demon is saying that it will be an accomplishment of Herculean proportions to finish in the top four, but there’s a Colonel behind him, sipping Malbec, going “yeah, right”.
If anyone knows who owns the copyright to the picture of the old man above, please let me know so I can give due credit.
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