So near and yet so far as Sale enter crucial new year for club
As we go into the second half of the season Sale Sharks find themselves in 7th place of the AVIVA Premiership table, five points off the coveted top four, one point behind the crucial top six and yet only five points from the obscurity of ninth.
The first half of the season really has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for us Sale fans. Here’s a look as to why…
Top of the list has to be the emergence of the new, young English talent coming through in to the first team. Players like Will Addison and Mark Jennings have been around the squad for a while now but with extended game time for both this year they have shown the potential the coaches always believed they had.
The two biggest pluses though have undoubtedly been Mike Haley and Josh Beaumont, who in the space of six months have come from left field to first team regulars. There’s even a case to be made that Haley has been Sale’s best player over the first half of the season.
Both have slotted in perfectly after the summer departures of Rob Miller and James Gaskell, Beaumont giving a nice balance at number 8 through his ball carrying and line out presence and Haley a new dimension to the back line. Strong under the high ball yet incredibly quick, almost gliding going forward.
Both have signed new contracts with the club too (amidst rumours of Saracens sniffing around Haley). Huge positives for the youth development set up going forward and for young, talented rugby players in the North West.
Other positive mentions must go the constant high level performances from Dan Braid, Jonathan Mills, David Seymour and Sam Tuitupou. Week in week out they can be counted on to put in the work around the field that has got the team results.
New signing Chris Cusiter has also filled the space left by the departing Dwayne Peel well. He has already built up a good understanding with Danny Cipriani and his constant snipes around the ruck and mauls has given the team some good go forward.
The final positive has been the maul. Maybe now Sale’s most potent offensive weapon, it’s dangerous from almost anywhere inside an opponents 22 and virtually impossible to defend legally.
Certainly Sale’s inability to hold onto a lead has been a major worry over the first half of the season. Most famously against Munster in Europe but also Bath on the opening day, Leicester away in the LV Cup and then recently Leicester at home in the league.
Too many important points in important games have been thrown away from winning situations. Whether this is down to poor mental or physical strength or a lack of inner belief within the team I’m not sure but it is a habit they need to break.
I know injuries play a part in any teams season but ours have hit particularly influential players.
Tommy Taylor was injured playing for England during the summer and his throwing accuracy at line outs has been missed in an area of Sale’s game that has been desperately poor at times.
Michael Paterson’s all round game has been missed since he got injured. Unlucky not to have been in England’s Autumn Internationals squad in my opinion, he really is one of Sale’s outstanding players and one we need fit again soon.
The biggest loss of all though has been the captain, Dan Braid. Coming up to 34, when you put your body on the line as much as he does injuries are going to occur. In the 9 games he hasn’t played for Sale this season we have won 2 and lost 7. Of the 7 he has played we have won 5 and lost 2. He is Sale’s rugby brain and without him the team just don’t perform as well. It will be crucial to the overall success or failure of this season how much he plays from now on.
40-19 away to Saracens. 43-10 away to Northampton. 35-3 away to Clermont. 41-16 away to Wasps. Just some of the performances we would like to forget. That roller coaster really has had some lows this season. At times this season the team really has self-destructed spectacularly.
The line out got very ugly at times during the early part of the season, meaning statistically its still one of the worst in the Premiership.
Perhaps most ugly of all though are the attendances at home games. Over the 6 home games played at home in the league so far the average attendance is 6106 and that figure is skewed some what by the 11,247 who watched the Leicester game over Christmas.
With the magical figure of 8,000 that has been mentioned to break even, the vicious circle of fans being attracted to watch good rugby and paying for the good players to play that rugby starts again.
With a crucial run of games coming up (Northampton, Clermont and Munster) the momentum lost during the Wasps game needs to be rebuilt and quickly. A top 6 finish in the league is an absolute must if the club are to build on what was achieved last season. It is now up to the coaches and players to make that a reality.
Luckily, this is one roller coaster ride I won’t be getting off of any time soon