Posted in match reports, Photo essay

View from the Birtles: Sale 5 Saracens 71 [AP15]

This was a difficult one to watch.

Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Saracens 25 Sale 14 [GP]

I am this far away from being seriously pissed off. Not with the result – I expected that. Or with the league position – that can be recovered. No, I am frankly sick and tired of watching a team that seems to be constitutionally incapable of keeping fifteen men on the field for more than a couple of games in a row.

Continue reading “View from the armchair: Saracens 25 Sale 14 [GP]”
Posted in match reports

View from the Birtles: Sale Sharks v Saracens (F)

I’m planning on going to some women’s matches this season, if they’re at home on a free weekend, so I thought I might as well do some reports as well.

I say reports – it’s going to take me a while to get to recognise players, so early efforts may be a bit sketchy. Alternatively, I may make them primarily photo essays, like this one.

Anyway, start as you mean to go on, so I popped down to Heywood Road to watch the pre-season friendly match against Saracens.

First half, Sale were… not good. They were bullied in the pack and made too, too many basic errors. The kicking was uninspiring, too, with many kicks flubbling along a low trajectory like an arthritic pigeon.

We got a massive improvement in the second half, though. The pack started doing a bit of pushing around itself, the kicking was much crisper and the overall play was much more promising.

Sarries won by loads to a few*, but this was just a pre-season game, so it’s not worth reading too much into it. I’ll reserve judgement until after the opening game against Worcester on the 4th September.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures.

* 12-50, apparently…

Posted in match reports

View from the armchair: Sale 24 Saracens 17

It’s hard to avoid descending into the “game of two halves” cliché when talking about this match but, really, if any game epitomised that hoary old phrase, it was this one.

I’ve been thinking for some while about how to write this report. Normally, they come fairly easily: there are things I want to talk about, phrases I want use, and it’s just a matter of adding sufficient extra words to make a coherent story.

But not this time. Not much stuck in the mind, which is a little unfair on the first half, which was full of vim and inventiveness. Errors aplenty, sure, but more good stuff to salivate over than things to criticise.

For instance, Morozov’s second-minute break that lead to a try for Postlethwaite, loads of good handling, offloads and running — Hammers seemed to beat at least one defender every time he got the ball. Scrums held up well, line-outs weren’t perfect, but neither were they a disaster. Further tries for Valery and Hammers seemed to be setting Sale up for a good win to cement second. Roebuck showed well and Langdon looked like a first-choice hooker in the making.

As I said, there were errors; the fumbled restart from Poss’s try leading directly to a try for Segun, a few hospital passes, the occasional dropped ball, but overall, the half-time stats showed Sale well on top and with a deserved 21–7 lead.

But then, oh dear, that second half. What happened? Saracens changed their game plan and Sale didn’t cope with it is what happened. An all-too familiar refrain: the opposition change tactics and we fail to modify ours to counter. They came out more aggressively, put us off our stride and never let us recover. This seeming inability to adapt needs addressing, I think. And it often seems to happen at the break: the opposition come out having been given a rollicking and instructions on how to fix it, we come out business as usual. Which would be fine if we recognised the change in the other lot and were able to wrestle the initiative back.

I will pass over the decision to go for the posts in the 77th minute with a roll of the eyes and leave it at that.

I don’t like feeling flat after a win. I especially dislike not really wanting to celebrate keeping second place. I want to be jumping around, cheering and hollering at how well we’re doing compared with just a few seasons ago. But the simple fact is that, in the immediate aftermath, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to celebrate that win the way it surely deserved. If the two halves had been the other way around, I think I would still be sporting a huge grin several days afterwards, but that capitulation in the second half, even though we still won, rather took the gloss off of it. Beat Bath on Sunday and all will be well again, I’m sure.

And, yes, in the end, it was a win. Against Saracens — a rarity in itself. Four in a row — another rarity. Back to second in the table after Bristol briefly went ahead the evening before. Fate still in our own hands and all that. The stats tell us that we dominated the game, even taking that second half into account. Let’s take all the pleasure and confidence we can from that, but I don’t agree with anyone who says that we should ignore the cliché in the room and only focus on the positives. Going off the boil like that is the reason I haven’t been able to evict that demon I mentioned last time. We got away with it — twice — and that’s a positive, but we shouldn’t be in the position of needing to get away with it; that’s a negative, and shouldn’t be glossed over.

There are four points between second and fifth; that’s squeaky bum time already. On the plus side, there are no more short turnarounds before the end of the season , so Sale can afford to go out all guns blazing every match, with no need to consider rotation. [ETA: the round 21 dates have been finalised, and there is a 5-day gap between rounds 21 and 22. I think we can still go all out for it, though]

Bris are only one point behind — we need three wins and two bonus points to guarantee they can’t snatch second place from us (ignoring the fact that they play Wasps next. Can we hope for Wasps to do us a favour? Still need three wins, though).

Ideally, we’ll get 5 against Bath, and Wasps and Bristol will draw with no bonus points to either side— I’m sorry, I must have nodded off: I was having a very pleasant dream.

Bath are looking good at the moment, we could struggle (or we could blow them out of the water — it’s so frustrating), but a win would give us a decent buffer over them, so we really do have a must-win here, for peace of mind, if not for any other reason. Wasps are fully capable of beating Brizz, and I’d expect them to score four tries doing it, so a 5-point win against Bath would help keep the gap between us.

Now, shut up, you irritating demon. It can be done.