View from the south stand: Sale 18 Northampton 13
By Major Bloodnok
November 28 2018
A matter of necessity—an all-too-familiar start—disappointment—improvement—a mixed bag—new recruits—optimism.
Events the previous evening, with both Newcastle and Worcester winning, had added a certain *frisson* to this game, as Sale we now firmly on the bottom of the table. A win was not only very desirable, it was an absolute necessity. Nothing less would do, especially with a trip to Bath coming up next. A five-pointer for preference, but a win whatever was a must.
We had a bright, chilly day in prospect as the clans gathered at some unearthly (and possibly illegal) hour of the morning. I mean — *morning*! Sheesh.
Much of the pre-match discussion revolved around Northampton's giant winger, Niayaravoro. Comparisons were made with Jonah Lomu (and, by extension, David Rees as regards how to deal with him — basically, run through his legs).
And, with two minutes on the clock, it looked as if our fears might be justified. Niayaravoro bundled through near the touchline and fed Reinach for the opening try. 5-0 down and a few years were sinking already.
They sank a bit further a couple minutes later when Will Griff John went down near the Saints' line and had to be stretchered off with what looked to be a serious neck injury. Less than five minutes gone and we were feeling a bit numb, and not just from the cold seeping up through your boots.
As it happened, though, that was pretty much the end of Sale's bad luck for the game. For the rest of the match, Sale mostly dominated in all areas. Niayaravoro, after that initial burst, proved more of a liability than an asset. He dropped the ball and was easily bundled into touch by Denny on several occasions.
A couple of dodgy scrums aside, there was not much wrong with the way Sale played and bossed the game around. Apart, that is, from a signal failure to convert that dominance into a commanding scoreline. Two tries from Denny (sublimely created by Faf) and a couple of penalties were all we had to show for it.
That, in itself, has to be concerning, since we butchered at least two tries with a failure of vision, and one from a failure to control the direction of a pass. Arron Reed must have felt that the world was against him when he saw referee JP Doyle scrub out his try for a forward pass.
Also of concern—given the crowded nature of the league table—was giving away the 78th minute penalty that gave Saints a losing bonus point. Normally, I’m not too concerned when a visiting team gets a point from the match but, the way things are, we must begrudge every other point that the teams around us gain: Quins are five points ahead, but with the same win/loss record as Sale.
But, apart from the disappointment of not putting the game to bed with aplomb, there was much to be positive about.
Arron Reed showed some real class and a very gratifying turn of speed. 75 metres from 6 carries tells a big story, and it was a delight to watch someone capable of punching through a defensive line with nothing more than blistering pace. Ashton, Yarde and McGuigan are going to have to look to their laurels with this young man breathing down their necks.
Also good see was Denny looking interested and hungry again. Not just his two tries, but that he made the big guy opposite him look a bit silly suggests that the Denny of couple of seasons ago might be coming back.
Faf was Faf, the fulcrum around which the side revolves. And either side of that pivot, we have the two Du Preez brothers. Rob seems to have settled in to the out half role as if he’d been there since pre-season. An astute signing, the loss of AJ is now less damaging than we’d feared.
And then there’s Jean-Luc (I’m trying to fit a Star Trek: TNG joke in here, but failing). In at the deep end and, far from floundering, giving every indication that a stadium a few miles outside of a small town in Cheshire is his natural hunting ground.
No-one on the Sale team had a bad game, and I was particularly pleased to see lots of evidence of improved handling skills during attacks. On several occasions I saw the ball recovered where previously it might have been dropped or fumbled.
On the whole, I think I see the positives as just outweighing the negatives from this game. There’s no denying that the team are recovering from a disastrous opening few games and that, I think, has affected their confidence over recent games. What we’re seeing (I hope) is the team battling through that confidence dip and working towards the devastating performance that we all want to see.
Next up, an away trip to Bath. This may be the best chance for some time to snatch a win at The Rec, with Bath being a bit out of sorts recently. On the other hand, they’re probably smarting from defeat at Kingston Park last week and will be putting in an extra effort. Still, I think we can do it and, if we do, that’ll set the team up nicely for the trip to Bordeaux (I’ll be there, so I have high expectations of going one better than the Lyon trip last year).