I think I’ve figured it out: with fifteen men on the pitch, there’s less room and they keep getting in each other’s way. Take one off and the increased space means they can interact more smoothly. Or something…
I ‘watched’ the game live on Twitter; it’s no less anxiety-provoking than actually watching, I can tell you. Especially at the 75-minute mark when the club’s Twitter updates suddenly slowed down, so there I am, hitting “refresh”, “refresh”, “refresh” and screaming “what’s happening?” at my phone. The folk in Sainsbury’s weren’t impressed…
What was happening, of course, was that Sale were camped on the Bath line, having hit the “half as many minutes left as points ahead” mark and were gearing up to crush the Bath faithful’s spirits a little more by putting Jono over the line for the bonus point. But all I know is that it’s gone to the TMO and now I’m waiting, waiting, waiting…
Then another long wait until confirmation of the final whistle and then you’re left blinking dumbly and wondering how on earth they managed to win the 70 minutes a man down 30–20.
I noted that the Observer report the next day managed to acknowledge that Sale won, rather than their usual schtick of reporting on how the other team lost. Mind you, after watching the replay, I’d say that there is a good argument that Bath did lose it. Or, rather, that they failed to win it. By which I mean they showed flashes of ineptitude in attack that would even have had Richard Dawkins, in Axe’s place, wondering if, just maybe, there was a God.
I mean, take that interminable series of scrums in the second half. The first mistake was to ignore Einstein’s aphorism and keep going for the scrum every time. I’ve long been of the opinion that, unless you have a seriously good reason, you never do the same set-piece more than twice. Scrum, line-out, whatever, either way, get a penalty, redo it; get another penalty, do something else. This is especially true of five-metre set pieces, which seem to go wrong disproportionately often.
But continue scrummaging they did. The first one goes down; advantage; ball ricochets off a knee. The second one goes up on the mark, reset, goes down, knocked on in the backs. And so it went on for a couple more until Ross got shown the yellow.
And then they went for another one and my immediate thought was “you pillocks”. Think about it: we’ve lost a forward – go for a full line-out and you can drag a back out of the defensive line. But call a scrum and all you’re doing is bringing SiMac back on the field, who – with all due respect to Ross, who has been a fantastic asset to the club – is, right now, a significantly better scrummager. So, even though Ben went off to allow Si on, the act of redoing the scrum actually put Sale in a stronger position. A few minutes later and Tom Curry’s got his snout in the trough and getting the penalty turnover.
Lines cleared, nearly ten minutes off the clock, happy days.
Like I say, inept.
So, yes, there was a sense in which Bath threw this away but it was still very much Sale’s victory. Unlike Bath, Sale made very few wrong decisions and, fired up by the likes of O’Flats, an improving Gus Warr and a rejuvenated Rob duPreez, were able to make inroads into the Bath defence almost at will.
We started off perfectly on three minutes when O’Flats, channelling his inner prop, carried the ball almost a metre from the base of a ruck to open the scoring. Twenty-five minutes later, a sublime backhand pass from SiMac went to Sam James who pitched the perfect ball into the Warthog Pinball™ machine, for Akker to carom off of several Bath defenders before collapsing over the line for try number two.
Halftime, 23–6 ahead and thinking “we can do it … yeah, but, forty minutes to go, that’s a big ask … we’ve done it before … but we always fade in the second half … courage mes braves…”
And it looked like it was the little demon that was going to be grinning when Cokanasiga went in for Bath’s first try a couple of minutes after the break. Tell me your heart didn’t sink a bit at that and I won’t believe you.
But then, fifty minutes in, time for the Day of the Jackal – the reappearance of Tom Curry. First touch, a carry from the lineout; second touch, collecting the pass at the end of the move from O’Flats to score Sale’s third and wipe out Cokanasiga’s effort.
Then came the farce of the scrums, after which Bath did manage to put together their second fluid, penetrating attack of the game, ending with DeGlanville scoring their second try. Ten points down, about eight minutes to go, still a couple of minutes left on the yellow card… Doable for Bath, if you ignored the facts of the last seventy-odd minutes.
But, then, Sale played remarkably sensibly, working the clock down and down without ever getting on the wrong side of the ref in so doing. Unlike a certain Australian…
Then we get to three minutes to go, camped, Exeter-like, on Bath’s line before Jono bookends the scoring with a close-range dart just as O’Flats had started it 75 minutes previously.
Bath tried to salvage something in the dying seconds but couldn’t even manage that, despite a lot of huffing and puffing. Sale recovered the ball and kicked it into the Avon, referee Ridley (who I thought had a cracking game) blew the whistle and there we were: fourteen men for 70+ minutes had not just survived to grind out a result but had been the better side and, quite frankly, humiliated their opponents. Show someone those 70 minutes and ask which team had one man short, and most people, I’d wager, would say “the ones in blue”.
So, plaudits. There are several candidates for player of the match – Gus, Rob, O’Flats, Akker… but I’m going to go more abstract and give it to the team spirit. I don’t think I have yet seen a match that so epitomises that “brotherhood” that Axe and the team kept banging on about last season and before. Everyone shouldered their extra bit of the workload to the extent that there was no visible sign of strain. I think all that mental stuff is finally paying off.
I said a couple of weeks back that I’d happily see Gus as a backup to Raffi and Simpson. Can I amend that to I’m happy to see Simpson as a backup to Raffi and Gus. Although, the way he’s progressing, that may even have to be “Gus and Raffi”.
Rob is almost unrecognisable from the out-of-confidence player of a year ago. That spell at outside centre and then coming out of AJ’s shadow has done him the world of good. He’s currently on eleven kicks from twelve from the tee, and his distribution and defence have come on so well.
O’Flaherty. I mean, come on, what an inspired signing. The guy is a quantum particle: the wave function spreads out and then suddenly collapses to wherever it’s needed. He is everywhere – scoring from the base of a ruck, weaving his way through defenders, up in the face of the receiver as the high ball comes down, or just putting in a crucial tackle. Quality, class.
Got to give a mention to Sam James, as well. After a couple of seasons of – quite frankly – mediocrity (certainly by his standards), we’re starting to see the old Sam reassert himself.
From the forwards, I want to single out SiMac. He arrived as a bit of a “meh” signing, a filler, someone to carry the bags, I suppose. At least, that was the impression I’d got from many who’d followed his Wasps career. Useful to have around, but only ever a backup.
Nope. Deserved alternative to Bev now. I hinted above that sadly, but inevitably, dear old Ross is approaching the twilight of his career and now Si has overtaken him in the pecking order. Ross will always be a Sale hall-of-famer but we have to face facts.
Also a mention for James Harper. Coming on, knowing that you’re going have to do seventy minutes so soon after coming back from a long injury layoff must have been very daunting. That he came through it, maybe not entirely successfully, but certainly with his head held high bodes well for his future. With a two-week rest coming up, I wonder if he may get the nod ahead of Coenie against Exeter.
Jonny Hill showed us that we’ve made another top signing and Tom Curry… what can you say about The Jackal? How many turnovers did he win? No, seriously, how many? The Premiership site has lost the stats for our game so I can’t look it up. It seemed to me like at least four in the thirty minutes he was on.
Super-Accurate Mystic Predictor™ time again.
Last week’s predictions were:
SAMP–10: Bath 22 Sale 16
SAMP–5: Bath 20 Sale 20
Actual: Bath 20 Sale 37
Well, it got the Bath score about right…
Next up is Exeter at the AJ Bell (is it still called that?), and the predictions are <drumroll>…
SAMP–10: Sale 16 Exeter 19
SAMP–5: Sale 16 Exeter 19
Hmm. Both gave the same score…
I’m not so sure. I’ve watched both Exeter games so far and we can beat them. Let’s see.
Oh, the red card? Nailed on. No complaints from me. Coenie/James/Joe for the next two or three games.
anybody else immediately transported back several years to a rainy, muddy, Friday evening at the Rec and Our ‘Enry dropping it every time, but the ref couldn’t give a PT because the scrum hadn’t moved? ↩
I saw an Aussie complain that Foley had only taken 39 seconds of game time, and produced the timeline from the match video to prove it. Only 39 seconds? Ahem – law 20.5: a penalty or free-kick must be taken without delay. Reynal was absolutely correct. ↩