Well, that was a weird one. One-quarter new Sale, three-quarters old Sale. It never quite reached the level of squeaky bum time, but there were moments of unnecessary “what the f—” during the second half.
Add to that yet another injury for Raffi and Ben hobbling off (prognosis unknown at the time of writing) and this victory, whilst more than welcome, starts to feel a bit Pyrrhic.
But, like I say, weird.
For twenty minutes, Sale seemed to be an unstoppable force. Gloucester looked shell-shocked as we banged over three tries and a penalty to go into a 24–5 lead after the first quarter.
And then, for the next sixty minutes, we were treated to the local historical society’s re-enactment of the battle of Thermopylae as
the PersiansGloucester mounted attack after attack on the GreekSale line. The score over that hour was 12–3 to Gloucester and, although Sale’s lead never really seemed under threat, there was a distinct danger that we would gift them two bonus points, whilst failing to secure our own. A six-point advantage in the table would not be nearly enough, with them having two games in hand. Even so, eight points seems fragile.
You come to really appreciate the value of bonus points when you consider that one more try last week and one more this week would have seen us with an eleven-point gap over Gloucester and a nine-point gap over Quins and Saints.
So, the first quarter: apparently, Rob’s pin-point perfect kick to Joe for the first try was — according to Lil’ Oz — “actually, not a very good kick”. A “good” kick, apparently, would have faded in flight and the Glos covering defender would have been in the right position to pick it off. As it was, the ball held its height and dropped neatly into Joe’s grasp for the easiest of scores. I’ve got to say that, if your definition of a good kick is “one that doesn’t do what you wanted”, you may need to revisit your thought processes.
Anyway, Rob followed that up with a poor conversion attempt that annoyingly went between the posts. Five minutes gone, seven-nil up. Good start. That start only improved five minutes later, when Tommy Taylor scored from a maul after yet another Glos transgression (at this point, the penalties were going all Sale’s way). Another poor kick took the lead to fourteen and we seemed to be gliding smoothly towards a cricket score.
Glos rallied a bit, with Socino scoring from a five-metre line-out. Evans’s brilliant kick sailed fifteen metres outside the near post, leaving us with a nine-point lead that went up twelve with Rob’s abject penalty goal five minutes later. [Have I milked this enough, yet?]
A minute later, we got the try of the match as Gloucester, on the attack, chipped forward near the left touchline. Tom Roebuck fielded it, gave it a sort of spin and hurl infield to Rob (yes, Oz, it went backwards, check the mower lines), who shipped it on to Sam James (again, not forward). Sam then exploited the huge gap in the Gloucester defence and sped (for certain values of “sped”) upfield, flanked by Arron on the outside and Ben on the inside.
He chose Ben (maybe forward but, hey, momentum…), who had the simplest of run-ins to score under the posts. Conversion a formality, twenty-four points to five ahead, bonus point all but in the bag, happy days.
Then we got what must have been a glitch in the Matrix, imperfectly restored from a corrupt backup that left us in a universe with Gloucester dominant and Sale on the back foot, defending hard.
I think by now that I have established my bona fides as someone who does not go around nitpicking refereeing decisions or even blaming the ref for things going wrong.
So, when I say that the turning point for me was the most egregiously bad call that I think I have ever seen, believe me, it’s not just sour grapes.
A pass whilst being tackled from Sam James clearly went several metres backwards before being collected by Tom Roebuck, who carried it forwards and passed inside to Arron, who had a clear run-in under the sticks. He didn’t get there, though, because the referee pulled it back for a forward pass, the mark clearly indicating that it was the James pass that he deemed forward.
I’ve watched it several times and I cannot see anything to suggest that it went forward at any point.
I think he will have nightmares about that (or at least being hauled over the coals by the assessors) because, not only should that have been Sale’s bonus point try, but Gloucester scored from the resultant scrum.
Yes, I feel aggrieved. Refs make mistakes, sure, but that was particularly bad.
And, yes, Sale had another fifty-five minutes to make good. That they didn’t is down to them and they need to reflect on why that is, even given that the “forward pass” seemed to mark an extended period in which we got pinged off the park.
Half-time loomed without further mishap, going in with a 24–10 lead and we all were looking forward to them resetting during the break and coming out for the second half all guns blazing going for that extra score.
Then, for thirty minutes, we had… substitutions and not much else. All the action was in Sale’s half, with Gloucester pressurising the line and Sale’s defence earning its money plus bonus.
Thirty minutes in, a rare excursion into enemy territory was rewarded with a penalty to extend the lead to seventeen points. Fortuitously, as it happened, because not long after Gloucester scored their third – converted this time – so the previous penalty was the only thing that kept them out of losing bonus point territory.
Raffi then went off with what turned out to be a broken wrist. Good grief, that lad has luck as bad as Josh’s. That’ll be him out of the autumn internationals, then. Let’s hope he gets a good run of games over December and January to stake his claim for a Six Nations place.
With a couple of minutes to go, Sale had a wonderful opportunity to get that elusive fourth try. We had a penalty advantage five metres out after Glos pulled down a maul or did something in a ruck or whatever. Another line-out, another maul and we ought to be able to go over.
Except that scenario was rendered moot by the TMO calling attention to a particularly pungent brain fart by Dom Barrow, who had charged into the previous ruck shoulder first. Yellow card (the first for five games), penalty reversed, Gloucester cleared downfield and set up camp on the Sale line.
Then I got a bit confused. Time was up, the ruck was about a metre away from Sale’s try line and I distinctly saw the ref’s arm indicate an advantage to Gloucester. I could foresee the following events: penalty, line-out, maul, try, two bonus points thank-you-very-much.
Except that somehow, Sale got possession of the ball and Rob booted it into the east stand. I was waiting for the penalty award, but it never came. Everyone started shaking hands and doing all that manly stuff that you do at the end of the game and that was it. All over. A win. The try bonus would have been nice, but a win all the same and nothing for them. Almost as good as I could have wished for.
Still bloody weird, though.
Josh got Player of the Match and Joe Carpenter continues to look as comfortable at this level as a pig in muck, but I’m going to single out one player for special mention this week: Tommy Taylor.
He played the full eighty, after the late withdrawal of Akker from the bench. Given the state of the game, I think it was perfectly correct not to risk playing Ethan Caine. Wisdom is knowing when and when not to throw a youngster in at the deep end, and this was a time to stay dry. Caine’s time will come if he’s good enough.
Anyway, Tommy. He may be the third choice these days, but he’d be the first choice if line-out throwing was the only consideration. Reliable in the scrum, still mobile around the field: it’s definitely not time to put him out to pasture yet.
Also, I was dead chuffed for him getting on the score sheet after being denied twice against Sarries.
Oh, and give Mike Forshaw a knighthood and the freedom of Sale.
I’ll just casually mention that the SAMP™ predictions were 27–20 and 27–19. Actual score 27–17. I thang yew.
We now have a week off when we should have been playing Worcester, then it’s Premiership Cup time with Harlequins coming oop north.
The next Premiership game is at home to Bristol on the
|SAMP–5||Sale 31 Bristol 14|
|SAMP–10||Sale 31 Bristol 14|
So, at least it’s consistent. I’ll take that as a score.