Posted in match reports

View from the south stand: Sale 5 Toulouse 27 [HCC]

We knew it wouldn’t be easy. From the day the draw was announced, we were all thinking “Oh, bugger. Toulouse. Great.”

That we believed that we stood a chance in this game is a testament to the improvement we have seen in this side compared to last year. I’ll even go as far as to say that, had we not lost both starting props and had Cobus not farted his brain out through his ears, I think we could have won.

The fact that we did not give them any real sniff of the line until the 70th minute, after 52 minutes down to 14 and with tiring props is, I think, a huge credit. And I don’t even hold the five penalties against them – it’s difficult when you’re defending a man short and you’re against a guy who can pop them over from within his own half. Again, with fifteen men and fresh props, I don’t think those penalties would have been given away.

That’s not to say that Sale’s performance wasn’t without fault. There were wrong decisions made, and we failed to fully utilise the wind advantage in the first half. We forgot that we weren’t playing under a Premiership referee. I don’t think that correcting those mistakes would have compensated for the loss of SiMac, Sharkey and Cobus, but it might have been a closer-run thing.

But, no, on reflection, I’ve decided that I’m fairly sanguine about this result. I’m not implying that I think we should give up on the Euro campaign; I want us to fight for everything as long as we have bodies that can go out there and compete. It’s just that we’ve already done somewhat better than I’d hoped (overall, in all competitions): we still have a very real, very live Premiership campaign going on and we still have a few big guns to come back to bolster the latter stages.

So, let’s go to Ulster with the intent of taking a full five points, get to the round of sixteen and see where that takes us. Almost certainly away somewhere, but we take confidence and try for the win. If it doesn’t happen, so be it. This year’s difficult test was a direct result of finishing sixth last season: finish low, get higher-rated opposition. This year we should finish high (trying not to jinx things), so next year’s HCC should put us up against – shall we say? – less challenging teams.

[I promise I wrote this section before listening to the Shark Tank podcast. Honest.]

I want to reflect a moment on Cobus’s red card. Not to justify or minimise the bone-headedness of going in like that, but to talk around a few things that the incident raised in my mind concerning the ruck.

The angle of the tackler’s back relative to the ground is not relevant in the context of the ruck, so put that aside. The problem is that the very nature of a ruck increases the likelihood of some form of head contact. The whole notion of ‘clearing out’ basically requires you to have a player launch himself at someone whose head is facing him, in the danger zone. By coming into a ruck at speed, you are necessarily aiming at a small target, a large portion of which is someone’s head (q.v. the second London Irish red card the following day).

I’m not sure exactly how you can make things safer without banning the clear-out entirely. There is law 15.3, which reads

“Players involved in all stages of the ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips.”

Similarly, law 14.8(a&b) says that players arriving at the tackle before the formation of a ruck must remain on their feet. You’re not doing that if your shoulders are level with your knees.

I believe the purpose of these laws is to allow the clearing player to come in under the opponent and clear by forcing him upwards and back. Also, by having your shoulders low, it’s very difficult for the clearer to get any purchase and increases the probability of some sort of dangerous contact (see also the “crocodile roll”).

Now – and this is directly relevant to the Wiese card – the Toulouse player was illegally positioned, either contra to law 15.3 or to law 14.8(a&b), in that his face was pretty much on the ground. The fact that contact was made to the back of his head tells you that his shoulders were well below his arse.

So, here’s my question for discussion among the worthies: in a case like the one we saw on Saturday, should the fact that the other player was illegally positioned be considered mitigation? Should the fact that he was knowingly exposing himself to a higher level of danger be a reason to lower the sanction?

And if it’s not to be a mitigating factor, will referees enforce the law? Because if they don’t, then it will soon become impossible to clear a ruck. Go in, get your head down low, get hit, and see your oppo get sent off. Am I making sense? Can you see what I’m getting at? Of all aspects of play in the game, it seems to me that the ruck is the one that carries the most potential for serious injury because of its very nature.

Kudos to the usual suspects: Gus (for getting right up Dupont’s nose), Rob, SamJ et al. It was good to see Joe Carpenter picking up from where he left off. It was especially good to see Raffi back out there again, looking pretty much back to form. I think he just needs to cool it occasionally; sometimes he gives the impression of trying a bit too hard, of trying to impress, almost. I’m not particularly bothered: he’s young; he’ll learn quickly.

We’re likely to be without SiMac and Sharkey and certainly without Cobus for the Ulster game. That’s going to add to the difficulty of getting the result we want but, fortunately, we still have Bev and Harper with Ross and Joe Jones who, I imagine, has already been summoned back from Caldy. Tumy as travelling reserve prop?

Where is Coenie?

As for replacing Cobus, I’d go with Jean-Luc to the row and Josh to start at eight (unless Dan is fit again). Keep the same backs line-up, both starting and bench.

Go for broke: the future’s still bright, the future’s still Simon.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to Mike Forshaw for the last ten years. I’m devastated that we’re losing him, ecstatic for him personally and really, really miffed that it’s Wales who are getting him.

All the best, Forsh (but not against England).



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