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View from the armchair: Leicester 19 Sale 15

By Major Bloodnok
September 30 2018

An unexpected start—an expected counter—still in touch—a marked improvement—a welcome return—a hard-fought point—a spark of hope.

In my reflections on the defeat to Wasps, I said:

Leicester on Sunday is going to be, for me, the measure of the team. Can they pick themselves up to compete away against a team that are going to be smarting from an unexpected defeat against Worcester? I can't say I expect a win (although hope springs eternal...), but if they can worry Tigers—make them sweat a bit, keep it close—that would go a long way to restoring confidence and starting the long haul back.

Did they achieve that? I’d say yes, they did. This was possibly the most encouraging performance of the season so far. Not that that’s a particularly high bar to clear, and I don’t mean that to imply that I think everything is going to be hunky-dory and that we’re out of the woods.

AJ pulling out did little to raise my expectations of decent result, but the inclusion of van Cannonball on the bench was a welcome sign, given that we were expecting him to still be out for a couple of weeks.

Early signs were that Leicester were going all out to atone for last week’s performance. A couple of minutes in and I was expecting a depressing start, but – seemingly out of nowhere ­– Denny collected a kick ahead, the ball was quickly recycled and moved right where Marland ran in a fairly simple try. Wilf missed the conversion and, six or seven minutes in, Sale were 5-0 up.

That lasted for about five minutes when Eastmond finished off a period of Tigers’ pressure, crashing through the defence to score near the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 7-5 about 15 minutes in.

Ford kicked two more penalties, Wilf missed one and May had a try disallowed for a forward pass to take the match to half-time with Leicester 13-5 up – a better score line than I had feared, I must admit.

But there was still the small matter of the second half to come; something that has not been kind to Sale this season. The fear was that Sale would—as they have four times so far—fall away and Leicester would run rampant.

That this didn’t happen is possibly the biggest positive that I took from this game. Van Cannonball came on 10 minutes into the half and, for twenty minutes, the score didn’t shift.

Then, a Sale maul from a 5-metre lineout actually clicked and they bullied over the line for Webber to score. The kick didn’t go over (a consistent theme throughout the game) and Sale were now within three points.

By about 75 minutes that had become a nine-point difference with two Ford penalties, taking Sale out of losing bonus point territory.

By this time, Dimes had broken the habit of a lifetime and brought a couple of youngsters—Warr and Langdon—off the bench.

And these two provided the impetus to bring another mauled try (for Langdon) in the 79th minute. Horse missed the conversion and the game ended 19-15, with Sale outscoring Leicester 3 tries to 1.

So, another defeat, still bottom and a couple of points adrift of Newcastle. Yet I feel more heartened after this game than I did after the win against Worcester. The fact that Leicester (even though they seemed a shadow of their usual selves) never managed to pull away, that Sale kept going through the second half, that they looked more inventive than at any point this season and that one, at least, of the missing big guns made a tentative return to the pitch bodes well for the future, I think.

Of course, that could all be shattered if the team do not continue this uptick against Newcastle on Saturday. Defeat in that game would be a backward step on the road to recovering something from the train wreck of the first four games.

Of this game, the major positive, for me, was just a feeling that a team that was seriously lacking in confidence seemed to be working hard at regaining their mojo and going some way to achieving it.

More specifically, Marland is still, in my opinion, the most committed player this season. His willingness to chase and challenge for the ball has been the highlight so far for me.

In this game, Denny seemed more involved than he has looked thus far and I hope this signals the start of a return to form.

The Currys looked good, as ever, with Tom in particular making a real nuisance of himself at the breakdown.

Van Cannonball’s return was a bit subdued, which is only to be expected, and I hope that he will not be rushed back by starting him too soon over the next few games.

On the downside, our lack of a credible backup kicker was badly exposed: the nine points that went begging would have made a big difference. The scrum is still an issue of some concern, although it didn’t get the mullering I had been afraid it might.

So, overall, this game has left me cautiously optimistic that we will start the crawl back up the table soon, with the caveat that we will need an improved performance on Saturday if the gains from this match are not to be squandered.

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