Four relatively easy kicks missed, any one of which would have been enough to give us all five points. That was the difference between maintaining the lead in the table and losing a little bit more ground to the teams behind us.
Two minutes into the game, I turned to a Sale fan behind me and asked, “left post or right?”
“Right”, says he.
Look, it was meant to be a joke, a bit of light-hearted, self-deprecating banter, not a serious prediction. Sheesh.
He was correct, as it happens.
What is it with Rob du Preez and hitting the posts? And can we get an extra point for doing it? We’d be top of the league if we could.
By contrast, Cipriani kicked all four of his for Bath. Why couldn’t he do that when he was with us?
This lack of a serious secondary kicking option is starting to become a(nother) serious issue that’s affecting Sale’s ability to live to their potential and occupy the sort of places in the table that the talent warrants.
Mind you, this was another one of those games where, if you’d offered me the actual result before the game, I’d have probably taken it. And I’ll say it now: if you offered me three points against Sarries on Friday, I’d probably take that, too, although we really need more out of that game after this one.
And what’s happened to Sale’s famously duck’s arse defence? In the last few games, it’s been showing more leaks than a hedgehog’s water bottle. Twenty missed tackles: unheard of not that long ago, given that we only made 96. That’s an awful ratio for a team renowned for dominating the tackle area. Have we been worked out? Is it time for Forsh to tweak things up a bit? Bath’s first-half dominance after the Hughes binning can be largely put down to territory gained through Sale’s porous defence.
For once, we can’t really blame the penalty count for handing the initiative back (although some of them were pretty dumb), since – amazingly – we gave away fewer penalties than Bath: fourteen (still too many) to their eighteen. I suppose that where the penalties were given away can negate the effect of the lower count, but even so…
So, yes, any one of those missed kicks could have won the game but, thinking back on it, it was those 21 points given away in the first half through abject tackling that added the importance to those kicks. Had Sale been more focused in that second quarter, we could have missed every kick and still come out handsome winners. It’s no good correcting things at half-time, they should not need correcting in the first place.
Right now, I am less than sanguine about our chances of doing any more than clinging on to a Champions’ cup place next season. Of those close behind in the top eight, Gloucester and Northampton can go above us, regardless of how we get on against Saracens. Irish are yet to have their bye week, so we could maintain the gap. Even so, that means I fully expect us to be back in seventh place after our bye week. The Sarries result only affects how close we are to taking advantage if Saints, Glos or Exeter slip up.
Wasps are seven points behind, so not a threat.
Looking at individual performances, Bev was back to his best, possibly the best player out there (for Sale, at least). He earned two penalties from jackalling that I saw and possibly more. The scrum looks so good when he’s at loosehead. Only an idiot wouldn’t pick him for England.
I thought Rohan had a good game, too. His try was well taken wide out right and coming back in to improve the angle for the kick. Not that it did any good…
But, overall, this was a disappointing performance against a Bath side that are on the up, certainly, but should have been put away in the first half.
I said a while back that Sale were a team that could beat Leicester and lose to Bath this season. They tried their best to prove me right.
Saracens up next. Oh, boy. Just what we didn’t need when we’re actually now desperate for points to maintain position. Friday could be a long evening.
We’ll probably win comfortably, now…