Haven’t posted a ramble on the forum in a long time but frustrated watching and a few beers have led to the below. Sorry in advance. Double apologies if you’ve seen this on the Ultras Facebook group I recently joined. Starting to wonder if they’re all the rugby gurus they proclaim to be given some of the comments...
I thought the game against Irish and the 2nd half against Gloucester were short steps in the right direction. I thought today was a bit of a stumble and a stall to be honest.
Last quarter - we seem able to control games at the end which suggests that 80 minute fitness is better. Middle sections though, we still seem leggy, which suggests perhaps our recovery from explosive action still needs work. Also, would be helpful if we were within striking distance by the time the last quarter started!
Freddie Steward - some great takes early on and faded out as we were physically bested and starved of any decent ball. But showed bottle to reappear at the end with some strong running and really clever line to score his try. Has to be shown some faith.
Handro - big, all energy display. He’s not an 8, he’s a 6 but he carried smart, tackled hard and stepped up. Like Kalemafoni but more dynamic IMO, and seemed to rally the forwards. Potential pack leader and he can nail that shirt (6!) down.
Kicking in the last 25 mins - we stopped trying kicks down the middle and instead started raking the corners, which Ford is excellent at and, surprise surprise, we start winning territory. With our lineout work, I don’t know why we didn’t start this earlier.
Ellis - First few displays since lockdown I was worried he was believing his own hype and carrying laterally, getting stripped because he wasn’t looking after the ball etc - it happened in the first 10, and then in the second half really turned it on. Direct carries, smart pick and goes, strong work in the scrum and, I think, a full 80. Really showed up and massive shift.
Kicking - down the middle. Chase was better than in the past but Sale have such a powerful side that even if you tackle them earlier, they will still just build and build and squeeze penalties. It just handed easy possession back and, if we were relying on the low sun forcing errors for the second half, we should have anticipated with our luck that it would go behind a rucking cloud.
Discipline - Defence in the middle of the Park was mostly ok but we handed territory to Sale time and again. I thought some offside calls were nonsense (along with a few others) but some - particularly Tomas - have to adapt quicker to the ref’s viewpoint. Once in the red zone it is difficult for any side to stop a powerful and organised team like Sale or even Exeter’s second string side (ask Saints).
Collisions - This is the big one. We emphatically lost the collisions for the key period of the game. Yes, there were times when it was understandable (clever play in a ruck holding our player leaving Ford trying to stop Manu at full tilt), but other times - particularly when we were carrying - we were battered. Our carriers met 2 Sale tacklers (Leatigaga smashed back), their carriers invariably met one on ones and made metres. For me, this is not about individual power or strength, it is about speed of recycling and varying options. Currently, our runners are almost exclusively off 9, which makes them easy to target, there’s no variation. The ball is slow, which means the defence is set, aggressive and targeted. There is nothing wrong with an old fashioned quick pick and go followed by an aggressive clean out to get the defensive line stepping back and giving your attack that split second more breathing space. We’re just so, so predictable, and then we end up booting the ball away when we stall.
The backs - Pretty harsh because several did good things (Ford, Steward) and without the platform from winning collisions it’s incredibly hard to make stuff happen against modern, organised defences. But Nemani never saw the ball in space and ended up working as an extra forward, FS was silent in attack for 40 minutes and poor David Williams barely got a sniff. When the back 3 are that anonymous you know there’s a problem. When did we last make a clean break? When we did try set moves, we were rattled by the press (made worse by the collisions point, above) or comprehensively misplaced / overran / underran passes so we ended up getting smashed in blind alleys (credit to Sales’s defence). It could be that our backs are learning to implement a new pattern which takes time to execute in a game situation, but it did not look good. Guys like Scott and Taute, who we KNOW have quality and nous, contributed very little in a positive sense.
In summary, from an ignorant, non-qualified fan:
Variation of carrying +
Faster clear outs and moving the ball away from rucks quicker +
More responsive discipline =
Guaranteed success and probably the title next year.