Any more games like that and I think I’m going to need a tube of Anusol.
Sometimes I hate being right. Talk among the massive just before the game was that it was likely to be either a bum-clencher or we’d run away with it. But which would it be?
As it turned out: both.
Thirty minutes in, it looked like we were going to post a cricket score. And, in a way, we did: an England cricket score, where you get off to a great start and then collapse. The only slight disappointment at the half-hour was that Rob seemed to be wearing someone else’s boots, so we only had twenty-two points to show for the try bonus, rather than nearer twenty-eight.
That we could be 22-3 ahead after thirty minutes and yet we were sarcastically remarking “we could regret those missed conversions” just goes to show how long some of us have been watching Sale. “Battle-weary cynicism” doesn’t enter into it…
Things got off to an interesting start when the Bath winger, Butt, was binned for taking Joe Carpenter out in the air. Watching the big screen at the time, and later in the full match replay, I think he was lucky that the ref was being a bit generous, saying that Joe had landed “on his side”. Yeah, the side of the head for me.
From the line-out following the penalty, Gus spun the ball wide, then got the ball back a couple of rucks later and sent a deft grubber in behind the defence for Joe to latch on to for the first score.
We won’t mention the conversion attempt.
Five minutes later, Spencer pulled Bath back into it with a penalty kick and we then had about ten minutes of – frankly, quite scrappy – back-and-forth, which Sale mainly had the better of, before a scrum penalty to Sale gave us a line-out about ten metres or so from the Bath line. Cue Dugdale and co crashing through, scattering Bath defenders like skittles and try number two was in the bag. A much more assured kick for the conversion was something of a relief after the previous flubber. 12-3 up and we’re not even out of the first quarter.
Things got even better a few minutes later when a penalty to Sale was marched forwards ten metres following a bit of petulance from Spencer (quelle surprise). Sam James put it out about six metres from the line and, a couple of rucks later, Jean-Luc sent a clever pass outside to Tom Roebuck, who ran in round a watching Bath defence. The conversion was well-struck but drifted wide.
On the half-hour, another line-out, another try; this time Tommy Taylor doing what all good hookers do with a maul from five metres out: latch on the back, let everyone else do the hard work and then take all the glory. The conversion went agonisingly wide…
Bath got some reward at the end of the half, scoring after a couple of five-metre line-outs. I think that was more down to Sale not wanting to give away a penalty – after having been warned – than it was due to Bath’s mauling ability. Going in half-time 22-10 up was less representative of the play than 22-3, but still fairly comprehensively on top.
And then we get type specimen for something I was banging on about a few weeks back (was it Newcastle?): we dominate the first half, the opposition gets a bollocking at halftime and comes out all guns blazing and we stand there like rabbits in headlights going “what happened?”
Within two minutes of the restart, Joseph latched onto a kick-through and ran through some – OK, lightweight – defending to bring them within five points.
Then Ojomoh got binned, Rob kicked a penalty to put us eight points ahead, and we’re thinking “let’s go and make the most of this”, especially when Cam Redpath was binned to give us a four-minute period against thirteen men.
All that happened in that time, though, was that Spencer knocked over a penalty to close the gap back to five.
Then, when we were back to fifteen-all again, Spencer got on to another kick-ahead just before Carpenter to give Bath a two-point lead with about fifteen minutes to go. Surely that was enough time to gather ourselves together, reassert the first-half dominance and retrieve the win?
Well, not exactly “nope”, but bloody nearly. What we got was an extended period of that panic that we’ve all come to know and… love? Forcing the issue, trying the miracle play, giving up the initiative – tick them off like it’s a bingo card. The two penalty misses? I’m not going to criticise; they were both kickable, we were two points behind and either would have put us ahead. On the whole, they were less risky options than going for the line-out.
What saved us was getting another scrum penalty right at the death. This time, a long-range attempt wasn’t on, so Sam puts it into touch and we all start the process of expecting the cock-up: the throw will be squint (no); we’ll do something illegal in the line-out (no); we’ll knock it on (no); we’ll be done for holding on (no), and so on.
When Raffi spun it out to Carps, who shipped it on to Arron, and we could see the acres of space in the tramlines… well, I’ve been to quieter metal concerts. Who cares that Rob missed another (difficult) kick? Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, when so often we’ve watched them do it the other way around, felt good
As the late, great Stanley Unwin used to put it: deep joy.
👿 We got away with that one. Realistically, Bath deserved the win: they come out firing in the second half and Sale had no response. We looked like rabbits in the headlights, giving up penalties and defending poorly against a couple of neat kick-throughs.
😇 A fair result in the end, although Sale caused the fans a lot of needless anguish getting there. Bath were awful in the first half and, despite their apparent dominance in the second, posed little threat to the line. Both their second-half tries came from kicks through the – admittedly slack – defence.
👿 We should not be letting teams get away with going down to thirteen men without punishing them. To go through that double-card period with three points each is not the mark of a championship-winning team.
😇 If anybody should know what going down to thirteen can do to a team’s resolve, it’s surely Sale fans. Remember that game at The Rec earlier this season? And don’t forget, the only reason that Bath even managed to get a lead was because Rob had someone else’s boots on this game, not because of open-play errors. Missed kicks, whilst annoying, are not symptomatic of poor play but they do add to the pressure of the scoreline. Had Rob kicked all the points on offer, the final score would have been 42-27 and we still would have played no better than we did.
👿 We can’t really call ourselves a championship-winning team if we’re going to keep switching off like that. Great teams never give up and, when they are dominant, will turn the screw even harder.
😇 All teams go through bad patches and periods when things aren’t working. Great teams – championship teams – find a way to win anyway.
The actual margin of victory was bigger than SAMP™ predicted, but the actual bum-clenching anxiety induced was about right.
I doubt that I’ll be doing any reports on the upcoming Prem Cup games: I’m otherwise engaged for both – at a concert† for Bristol and a wedding for Exeter – so I won’t be watching live and I doubt there will be any full match replays available. It’s a shame, as it looks as if we might get our first sight of George Ford in a Sale jersey.
Looking at the rest of the Premiership campaign, it’s easy to get a bit twitchy. We have seven games left: two at home, and five away. That’s easily the most difficult run-in of all; everyone else is much closer to parity in the number of home and away games left (except Leicester, who have the mirror image of our situation: five home and two away).
It’s important to keep in mind, then, that we are fourteen points ahead of third-placed Exeter and sixteen points clear of being forced out of the top four. It’s very difficult to make up significant ground in the table; you’re lucky if you average 2-3 points a round over several rounds.
We’ve got a few weeks off now; time enough for injuries to heal, to bring us to the point where the loss of players to internationals is less of an issue, especially against teams who will be similarly depleted. Keep playing as we have, get those wins – ugly if necessary – and that home semi-final is ours to throw away.
And it starts against Northampton on the 18th of Feb. We can do it, I know we can. This season is different, despite every instinct within me, after nearly thirty years watching them, screaming “it’ll all go tits-up, you see if it doesn’t”.
The SAMP™ prediction for the match at the daft-name stadium at Franklin’s Gardens is :
|SAMP-5||Northampton 29 – 24 Sale|
|SAMP-10||Northampton 32 – 17 Sale|
† Epica, since you ask…