Running through the fixtures for week one of the Aviva Premiership and with the exception of Worcester it was harder to find a side with a tougher start than Sale. A trip to Gloucester and Castle Grim was probably not the start Steve Diamond would have wanted.
Sale arrived at Kingsholm on the back of one of the most disappointing seasons in the clubs recent history. We all know the story of last season for the Sharks. The signings of Richie Gray and Danny Cipriani were supposed to catapult Sale into the big time. Diamond spoke of creating a “northern super club”, indeed everything seemed to be in place for the vision to become reality, but it didn’t and the Sharks narrowly avoided relegation.
So with another season of struggle in prospect even the most optimistic of Sale fans would have seen a losing bonus point as a positive result on Saturday (and I include myself in that bracket). On a glorious day in the West Country the famous Shed was in fine voice and I feared the worst for my plucky Sharks.
But after just 11 minutes the Shed was silenced by a beautifully executed Sale score. The outstanding Dwayne Peel broke from the back of the scrum linked with Jonny Leota and broke through before flicking the ball to Nick McLeod. The fly-half then offloaded to Mark Cueto and the Premierships record try-scorer showed all his experience to step inside the covering defence to score.
A couple of monster penalties from fullback Tom Arscott stretched Sales advantage to 14-3 at half-time. This wasn’t meant to be happening, and the stunned atmosphere around the ground was an indication of just how shocked the Cherry and White fans were. Sale had dominated the breakdown with a ferocity Gloucester seemed unable to match. Dan Braid and Dave Seymour were completely nullifying Matt Kvesic, who endured a frustrating debut after his summer switch from Worcester.
The break seemed to invigorate the hosts, Sales defence held firm against the waves of Gloucester attack and struck a critical blow through centre Andy Forsyth. But the try should never have stood, Forsyth was a country mile ahead of the Cueto as he kicked the ball through. The TMO for some reason failed to notice this and awarded the try.
After Henry Trinder burst through the score under the posts and Freddie Burns landed three penalties, it seemed as though the inevitable would happen and Sale would succumb to the pressure and leave empty handed. But to their credit they showed fantastic composure to work the ball into the Gloucester 22 and Joe Ford slotted a drop-goal to extend the lead.
The final play of the game provided the Cherry and Whites the chance to get out of jail. A scrum on the Sale five metre line, but as it had done all day the Sharks pack would not be moved, the penalty arrived and Sale had a famous opening day victory.
Dwayne Peel provided a masterclass from scrum-half and completely ran the show. His sniping runs and inch perfect box kicks kept Gloucester on the back foot. He was the standout player and the Gloucester fans I spoke to after the game agreed that he was the difference between the sides.
This performance was bursting with attributes that Sale were missing for most of last season. They were gritty, organised, resolute and most importantly tough to beat. All in all it was the perfect start, and I think there is plenty for Sale fans to be optimistic about this year.