Remember when Sale were any good? I mean really good. When we had a pack that could dominate and a set of backs that would delight. When we ruled the breakdown and teams were scared of travelling up to the North West. The answer? The Championship year of 2006. Through a combination of player and staff turnovers and some poor management decisions the team has been in a steady decline ever since, culminating in what we were made to go through last season. Now don’t get me wrong, we are not back to the heights of 2006, nowhere near, but the shoots of recovery were in evidence on Friday night…
Going into the game Bath were being talked up by ‘those in the know’ as a good outside bet to break in to the top four. For a second season running they had spent big over the summer in a bid for success on the field. Now, if anybody knows this is not always the best road to take its us Sharks and on Friday night that team was dominated in every department.
Here’s a few reasons why I think that’s the case:
Step forward Mike Forshaw. He joined the club in the summer via Wigan and Connacht and his fingerprints can already be seen on this year’s defence both individually and as a team. This season Sale have adopted the ‘choke tackle’, keeping the player off the ground at the tackle area and thus winning the ball on a turnover. I lost count in the second half how many times both forwards and backs put their bodies on the line to make it happen. Individually the one on one tackles seem to be better and the missed tackle count in down from last season. All of this can be epitomised by Danny Cipriani’s try saving tackle in the first half. You remember him, the fly half who can’t tackle!
2. The Back Row.
The heartbeat of this Sale team at the moment. Seymour and Braid are literally everywhere and, after a season of injury, Mark Easter looks like our best option at number eight. His pick up and runs off the back of the scrum were immense at times and his offloading in the tackle is a joy to watch. There isn’t much more that can be said about Braid. He has simply carried on his form from last season when he virtually kept us in the Premiership single-handedly. And finally Dave Seymour, making his 100th appearance for the club, is our unsung hero. How’s he doesn’t figure in any of the England squads is a joke! It also helps when you have a fourth member of the back row masquerading as a lock! Michael Paterson was Cardiff’s player of the year last season playing number eight. He’s doing the same for us this season only with a different number on his back. He’s already looking like one of the signings of the season.
3. Team Spirit.
The era of big money signings at the club may be over and while that might upset some fans it looks like this set of players may be beginning to foster a strong sense of togetherness. These are not just words thrown about at the club anymore. They finally mean something. This shone through when, with twenty minutes to go, Sale faced the prospect of playing half that time with only fourteen men. Yet, though they tried, Bath never looked like crossing the line. The scenes at the final whistle showed what it meant to them, the power of the collective over the individual.
When you’ve been as low as Sale were last season it will take a number of years to get back to those dizzying heights of 2006. On Friday night we saw the first baby steps towards that goal.