Posted in match reports

View from the south stand: Sale 28 Exeter 20 [GP]

Don’t wake me up. I’m having this lovely dream where we’ve just beaten Exeter to go to three from three for the season and six wins on the bounce overall.

I’m going through that “imposter syndrome by proxy” thing again. I’m so conditioned by decades of slightly-above-averageness, of flattering to deceive, of climbing the heights only to miss the last handhold, that even this win seems somehow fragile. As if the score might reverse if you look too closely, or this is some sort of Truman Show and the network is about to cancel the next series.

Indeed, watch the first thirty minutes and it’s almost in that perverse comfort zone of the mid-table club up against the high-achievers that long-term fans are so used to. In that period, Exeter dominated possession (75%), territory (80%) and scoring(10–3) and just seemed to always be on the front foot and playing with freedom, whilst Sale were scrambling just to contain the threat.

But contain it they did – and, actually, with a lot less scrambling and a lot more control and determination than it may have seemed at the time.

But then the cliché turned, and Sale started to get some clean, continuous ball, quickly turning into real pressure on the Exeter line. For me, the point in time where the game pivoted came here, during this rare period of pressure: Sale had the ball, pressuring the Exeter 5-metre line, when Chiefs nicked it. And here’s the pivot – in trying to set up the clearance, they got caught a couple of metres out and gave up a penalty for holding on. That mistake led to the line-out which gave Ben Curry the try that equalised the scores.

And, to me, it looked as if the mistake was forced, not one of the many unforced errors Exeter made during the game. It seemed that, having been stripped, there was a collective sense of outrage (“Oi! You can’t do that!”) and an instant determination to get the thing back.

Whether forced or unforced, the error meant that a half dominated by Exeter ended all square.

If the bulk of the first half had suggested that those of us in the south stand would spend most of the second half checking the big screen to see what just happened, Sale were determined that we’d have a close-up view of the action.

Bev replaced SiMac at halftime and almost immediately slotted into that value-added prop role that is so exciting in the loose (watch it and look for the delicious Curry-esque jackals, and the general air of awareness that he shows).

Pretty much from the off, Sale put the pressure back on Exeter, again forcing them into mistakes and catching them in possession in the red zone. It was almost inevitable that Akker would be the one to convert the pressure seven minutes in. Rob continued his stellar performance from the tee to put Sale a score ahead for the first time in the match (and – it feels like – the first time since that infamous last game of the 20–21 season that should have seen us with a home semi-final).

We’ll gloss over the way they then seemed to lose a bit of focus and allow Exeter to equalise less than five minutes later.

We then had about twenty minutes of mostly midfield back-and-forth, with the balance of play in Sale’s favour. We started to see some of that inventiveness in the backs that had been a feature of the early games.

With ten minutes to go, Carpenter got on the end of a floated pass from Gus to go over in the corner and finally give Sale a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Rob’s conversion attempt will be a highlight of the season’s bloopers reel, but it’s well worth watching the build-up to the try carefully.

The Exeter of old (before the “held up over the line” law change) would be all “a phase of twisty little carries, all alike”. Pick-and-go, pick-and-go, pick-and…zzzzz.

By contrast, the build-up to Carpenter’s try was a mix of different phases: a pick-and-go followed by a ship out left, then cut back right, a bit more forward bullying…

It was nice to see Sale trying different ways of breaking down the close defence, keeping the opposition guessing what was coming next and finally capitalising when the opportunity opened up for the big Faf-worthy pass to the touchline. (It may be worth noting that O’Flats nearly scored Carpenter’s try a few phases earlier.)

A Slade penalty brought them to within five a few minutes later, but another silly error gave Rob an easy chance to restore the eight-point margin with two minutes to go. Slade had a valiant attempt at giving the Chiefs the losing bonus with a 50+ metre attempt, but it fell just short and Rob booted it into the north stand to end the game.

The major plaudits (and player of the match) deservedly went to Joe Carpenter for a very assured performance including his try, some good tackling and a neat bit of poaching worthy of Bev or the Currys. An excellent debut; we’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future, I predict.

But let’s not let a noteworthy performance take away from some other classy showings.

Gus Warr is looking as if he’s going to keep Raffi on the bench for at least the next few rounds. Compared with the Gus we’ve seen over the last few games, the player of last season looks like the beta version compared to this season’s release version.

Similarly, we’re seeing a Rob du Preez with added sass. Sixteen kicks from nineteen (84%), good distribution at 10, much better defence (but not yet stellar, unfortunately) and an air of confidence and leadership in the back line. Has he been talking to Fordy?

Special mentions also to the Currys (as ever) and Jonny Hill in the forwards. Sam James is really starting look something like his old self and O’Flats continues to impress with his work rate.

Super-Accurate Mystic Predictor™ time.

The prediction was a 19–16 Exeter win, so pleasantly wrong again. I can live with it being wrong in this direction…

For Leicester away, the predictions are:

SAMP–10: Leicester 27 Sale 19
SAMP–5: Leicester 25 Sale 20

We’ve won two of the last three games down there, so there’s some hope that it’ll be wrong for the third time in a row.

I may or may not do a report on that game [1] so, in case I don’t, here are the predictions for the following game, at home to Irish:

SAMP–10: Sale 32 LI 10
SAMP–5: Sale 33 LI 10

Please let that be accurate…

  1. Depends on the result whether I watch it or not…  ↩



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