With yet another host of newbies joining the squad over the summer and nothing, thankfully, in the way of a ‘marquee’ signing, we were all keen to see some of the new talent get an early run out, so at about 4.00p.m. on the 9th we hit the motorway to Lytham for the first warm up at Fylde – note to self – NEVER TRAVEL THE M6 FROM LYMM TO WIGAN ON A FRIDAY, LATE AFTERNOON AGAIN.
First I have to say what a fabulous clubhouse Fylde are blessed with. Opened in 2005, it shames 95% of the Salford City Stadium facilities. And the team Fylde put out certainly acquitted themselves magnificently. In the first 40 they were quick and hard in the tackle, matched Sale for ferocity at the breakdown, strong in the scrum, and kept bringing the backs into play with some very deft handling. On more than one occasion Sale were grateful to fly-half Joe Ford for some excellent pressure relieving kicks.
The one area where the Sharks professional status was clearly evident was at the lineout where Fylde hardly got a look, or a hand, in.
Given past encounters it was a tad concerning for the large contingent of Sharks fans that we only held a 0 – 7 lead courtesy of a Jonathan Mills try, converted by Ford. That said, it seemed likely that, at the pace Fylde were playing, their performance would probably drop off around the 60 minute mark.
With the introduction of Thomas and Cipriani at half time, Sharks soon put some more points on thanks to Cips putting Arscott through to touch down. Cipriani then made an absolute howler of an attempt at conversion, distracted no doubt by an incoming text while kicking. He compounded this shortly after with a sloppy pass whilst on the phone which was well intercepted by Oli Brennand who dashed some 80 yards to touchdown. Our Danny gave chase for 50 yards but gave up, apparently when he thought he heard a bus coming. Given how much exercise he has been getting I expected a higher level of fitness from him. For Sharks fans like me with heart problems, the conversion was unfortunately easy. 7 – 12.
By now some signs of tiredness were showing and the Sale pack started to dominate properly for the first time, and on 60 minutes Sam Bedlow crossed the whitewash only for another text to lead to a missed conversion. 7 – 17. In fairness to Danny, he then put Forsyth nicely into space who moved it on to Sam James and … 7 – 22 then 7 – 24.
Fylde still would not roll over but, unfortunately for them, after putting some pressure on the Sharks defence, when the ball came loose from a promising attack, Ingall was on hand to scoop it up and complete a 50 yard dash to the line with Cips converting 7 – 31. Arscott, looking very much at ease with his new team, finished off the scoring to leave it at Fylde 3 – Sale 36 after another missed conversion.
SALE SHARKS v LEEDS CARNEGIE, Sat, 17 August
Advance news of the Saturday team evidenced a starting line up which could reasonably represent a decent first choice allowing for a couple of injuries, signalled notice of intent to put the squeeze on a theoretically higher standard of opposition. Anyway, we rocked up to the delightfully quaint environs of Heywood Road to watch this terms second ‘friendly’. It was so friendly that within the first 5 minutes we thought we were mistakenly at the M.E.N. for boxing. Marc Jones and Calum Green were wielding some very large handbags at each other with other players fending each other off and Ostrikov’s attempt at ‘pugilistic pacification’ earning him a lenient 10 minutes of navel contemplation. In a Premiership match, at least those 3 deserved a straight red with a yellow or two as well being entirely justified in the presence of a T.M.O.
I was upset for Dave Seymour when Dan Braid was announced as captain as he has been a huge presence for Sale these last 2 seasons but, I watched Braid’s game management carefully in this match and I can see why Dimes has handed him the role. He is a like a Richie McCaw Lite. He is constantly providing guidance to the referee about the transgressions of his opponents, even when the scrum has engaged – his head pops up and he’s there, yak, yak, yak. He also slowed every aspect of the game down during the sin-binning.
The visitors missed a penalty after 11 minutes and after 14 minutes a lovely move started by Cipriani led to Arscott touching down and then converting. Leeds continued to defend resolutely restricting Sharks ability to play out wide and they thwarted 2 good try scoring opportunities for the Sharks but a Cipriani, wide right penalty led to Easter crashing through to make it 12 – 0. Arscott was unable to add the extras from out wide on a blustery day. Leeds were proving pretty strong in the scrum but, as with the Fylde game, Sharks were dominant at the line out.
After the break Leeds came back quickly with a 30 yard penalty and then the Sale substitutions started with Thomas, Patterson and Taylor coming on before Cueto put Forsyth clear to score and with Arscott adding the 2 points it was 19 – 3. Leeds were also temporarily down to 14 men after a display of ‘afters’.
The benches were emptying quickly by this stage and, again, the greater strength in depth of a Premiership team was in evidence. Sale were awarded a penalty try on 64 minutes with Arscott again converting to bring it to 26 – 3. Cueto then crossed the white line on 71 minutes with Macleod failing to find the bit between the sticks. 31 – 3, but Peel had taken a nasty smack to the side of his face and left the field after his brief stint. More recent news is that he is fine and Sale management are pleased that it was only his head (him being Welsh) P.S. That’s not a serious comment.
Tuitupou smashed through a tiring Leeds defence for a try on 75 with Macleod adding the conversion so it ended 38 – 3.
- Fylde are a very impressive team with a superb facility – if you live up that way, go and give them some support.
- Of Sale’s new signings, Arscott in particular looks like he is settling straight in and will be a great acquisition.
- Kulemin and Patterson are both big, impressive units but I need to see them after more game time. Ford also looks to have a lot to offer and Forsyth has shown signs of a good talent.
- Cipriani remains a frustrating enigma. Sublimely talented at times and frustratingly error prone at others. I doubt he will ever get back into contention at international level but if he can start to join the dots up more consistently and stay away from his phone, he could be awesome for Sale.
- Leeds, like Fylde, have a solid pack of forwards but there was no one on show in the backs with that extra Premiership spark to seriously threaten the Sale defence. They will need more bite if they want to climb back into the top flight and, more importantly, not go straight back down.
Cardiff next Friday then. Hotel, meal (if you are going and staying over try Giovanni’s in The Hayes opposite Jamie Olivers overpriced establishment) and match tickets are booked and after the mud-fest earlier this year on the old Arms Park pitch – honestly, we couldn’t tell the teams apart after 20 minutes. It was a relief when the subs came on – we are hoping for a flowing game on the new artificial surface.
This will be the true test of where Sale stand for the new season as, even with Warburton still out, and Cuthbert and Halfpenny probably not ready for consideration, the Blues have the likes of Matthew Rees, Gethin Jenkins, Pretorius, Navidi, Bradley Davies, Scott Andrews and Taufa’ao Filise to call upon. A less than full strength team took a 21 – 17 win at Worcester in their recent friendly but I suspect that a rather stronger team will await us in Cardiff. Fingers crossed.