Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Bristol Bears 32 Sale Sharks 15 [GP]

Insert witty opening remark here…

Seriously, make up your own. I’m drained. I was going to pretend that I hadn’t watched the game to get out of writing this, but then I realised that my public needs me.

So, here I am on Sunday morning sitting in a window seat at California Coffee and Wine Bar, Americano and almond croissant to hand, wondering what I’m going to say.

I don’t want to hash over the rants of the last couple of reports, and that doesn’t leave much. I think what bugs me most is that the vast, vast majority of penalties and yellow cards are stupid. Offside, offside, not releasing, offside, sealing off, offside, offside, offside…

I wanted to check a theory, so I did a bit of digging. So far this season, we have scored 236 points and conceded 257 (I’m only looking at the Premiership, here). Now, there is a feeling that we fall off in the second half of games, so I looked at scoring by half. Defensively, we have conceded 130 points in the first half and 127 in the second. Fairly consistent, there, and not surprising, given the quality of the defence (only three teams have conceded fewer – and there’s an alarm bell, given a points difference of only –21).

Offensively, though, it’s a different story: of the 236 points we’ve scored (and only two teams have scored fewer), 142 were scored in the first half compared to 94 in the second – fully 50% more points in the first half of games. We have also had three scoreless halves, two of them second halves.

That’s significant of something, but I’m buggered if I know what.

Yes, well, obviously it means that we’re struggling to score, especially in the second half, but why, and what’s the significance of the second half?

I daresay it’s complicated; a mishmash of many factors. The last two years haven’t been easy on anyone and perhaps our squad have been affected more than most. I can imagine that the South African players will have been separated from family more than they would have expected when they signed. The litany of injuries and missing key players can’t have helped, either.

I suspect there’s also that “difficult second album” effect for Sanderson, too. When he arrived, it was partway through a season, most of the “external” DoR stuff had probably been done and he was able to be 90% head coach and not be too snowed under by the non-coaching aspects of the rôle. But this season (as he admitted in the pre-game press conference), he’s been much more involved in the day-to-day running of the club and this must be affecting his coaching. And, with the reduction of the salary cap coming, this has to be a particularly trying year to be the one that you learn the craft in.

Give him time to figure out how to balance things and delegate efficiently and I’m sure we’ll start to see improvement.

We also have to remember that everybody else at the club is someone he has inherited from the ancien régime. We won’t see even the beginnings of The Team That Alex Built until next season. He’s working with somebody else’s tools; again, give him time.

Also, look at Borthwick and Skivington; they had a pretty torrid season or so when they took over and just look at them now. Remember, Alex Ferguson was on the verge of being sacked as Manchester United manager early in his time there. He did OK in the end.

Then there’s the issue that I’m sure everyone reading this has as their own principal cause for concern: the absence of someone with real, out-and-out, off-a-shovel pace in the backs. I’m convinced that we would convert two or three times as many of the chances we make as we currently do if there was someone in there providing the threat of a rapidly disappearing arse beyond the defence.

So, let’s put this game in the past, but not before giving the only shout out I’m going to give this week: my player of the half-season, Bevan Rodd. Getting better every game, I felt for him when he got pinged after Afoa had clearly dropped to his knees. Got to keep this lad.

At this point, you may be thinking that it seems odd that I’ve got to 700 words without any mention of certain events. Well, sorry, but I’m not going to. As you may have noticed, I don’t do ref bashing, mostly because further investigation usually shows the ref to have been right. Not always, but they’re right more often than Austin Healey thinks.

Two events, though, did strengthen something I’ve been thinking for some time, and that is that rugby union is, in some ways, its own worst enemy. So I thought I’d put this out there and see if I could annoy a few pedants and purists.

To grow the game, you have to engage and lure new supporters and you do that by serving up something that they want to watch. Now, before you get your green pens out and start writing stern letters to The Times, let me be clear that I am not advocating changing the laws in the way that certain southern hemisphere teams appear to want. I love the down and dirty aspects of the game and I’m certain that new supporters are sophisticated enough to appreciate them, too. I don’t subscribe to the “people want fast action with loads of tries” school of thought.

No, I think the thing that puts people off is an over-pedantic adherence to the absolute letter of what is a complex set of laws, exacerbated by interminable examination of replay after replay trying to decide if one of those laws has been breached in the smallest degree.

My missus – who doesn’t really do sport – sometimes watches a bit of rugby when it’s on the telly. Her most frequent comment is “oh, for goodness’ sake, give it to him and get on with it”. She would have awarded the try to Rapava-Ruskin last week…

Now, I’m not suggesting that – he clearly dropped it – but I do think the vast majority of disinterested observers would have been utterly bemused at those two tries in this match being wiped off the way they were.

My suggestion would be, in essence, no slow-motion replays except in the case of potential head impact and then only to determine the point of contact.

Take the two knock-on not-tries. The referee, being unsure if there was a knock-on or not in the lead-up, refers the decision. The TMO has access to a single, wide view at full speed. If there is no clear and obvious deviation in the flight of the ball, get on with the game. If there is a deviation, then, from the same full-speed replay (maybe allow a more advantageous angle, but still full-speed only), if it is not clear and obvious who caused the deviation, get on with the game. Otherwise, take appropriate action. All done inside a minute and we can watch some live rugby.

For serious foul play, full speed replays (different angles allowed) should be used to assess factors like use of arms, posture, degree of force and so on – all the things that refs currently consider. Once all those have been sorted, if there is doubt whether or not contact was made with the head, then the referee/TMO can refer to slow-motion replays to determine the exact point of contact. All other factors, including mitigation, have already been decided, the slow-motion is there to determine the starting point for the sanction.

So, tenth in the table at halfway. Two Euro matches to come before the league restarts. Please, can we just get our sh— act together and get a couple of results? It would go a long way towards rescuing something from this season. A round of 16 place and Euro Cup qualification again would help and may realistically be the best we can hope for (although played 12, won 12 for the second half would be heavenly).



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

One thought on “View from the armchair: Bristol Bears 32 Sale Sharks 15 [GP]

  1. Another fine fine and accurate account of our current plight. Being ever the optimist, an essential requirement for all Sale supporters, to quote Chief Dan George “Endeavour to persevere”

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