Sunday 30 November 2014 – 3.15pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #9
I had expected to have an afternoon in front of the fire and a few cans today, while watching the game on BT, but about 24 hours before kick-off Mrs Leipy decided I should drive over and watch it live. I didn’t put up too much resistance, not least because the second half of Kendal v Kirkby Lonsdale was about to kick-off so I wasn’t up for a long debate.
After I braved the winter sun and wet roads in The Village of the Damned, the M6 was quite quiet, I even got into the left lane on occasion! The A69 was a bit busier, and I missed the turn-off into Westerhope, but still managed to walk the dog (a real live dog, not ‘drink a Brown Ale’) before lunch and kick-off.
The Falcons were dealt a blow before kick-off with Oliver Tomaszczyk failing a fitness test, so Scott Wilson started. That was not a disaster in itself, but it meant we had two on-loan (Alex Rogers is practically a Falcons player though, he’s on the bench every week) among the replacements. Kane Thompson and Josh Furno created slightly more interest among supporters.
Today’s crowd was never going to match that for the heavily-marketed game against Gloucester, but boosted by a load of youngsters playing for their clubs (including the mighty Kendal!), five and a half thousand is a decent turnout considering the game was on the tellybox. The atmosphere was canny too, particularly in the second half.
The Falcons did well early doors, getting a try through a bit of solo magic from Juan Pablo Socino, but after we went 10-5 up Sale really took over I thought and we struggled to get the early tempo back. Our best chance looked to be the two winger Sinoti Sinoti and Alesana Tuilagi, both of whom looked threatening in attack, but they weren’t backed up by the rest of the team breaking the gain line too and it was interesting that in our next dominant period late in the game, we barely made it into Sale’s 22.
Danny Cipriani had Sale ticking with some lively passing and intelligent kicks that kept the Falcons under pressure, but again I didn’t think Sale created many try-scoring chances other than their first crossing. Johnny Leota’s try came from a mis-pass by the Falcons and a break led by Cipriani – not making excuses, just saying that our defence was really strong and performed well.
The lineout, less so. I’m not sure what went on but we lost at least three to the tail (including a later one on our own five-metre line), and others didn’t seem to go quite into the jumpers’ arms. The scrum was hit-and-miss, strong early on but Sale seemed to get the better of our pack in the set-piece after the first half-hour.
Simon Hammersley looked to inject a bit of pace and creativity in the second half but wasn’t able to find a way through Sale’s high-up defence. Another replacement I thought had a canny day was Adam Powell, who replaced Gonzalo Tiesi in the first half. I didn’t notice the aforementioned Furno and Thompson unfortunately, others may have an opinion on them.
It seems we are struggling against opposition who get in our faces and deny space to the backs, this happened against Bath and also later on against Gloucester last week. I’m not sure what the answer to that is, as we don’t really have many fast players missing from the pack and half-backs, apart from perhaps Ruki Tipuna but I thought both Mike Blair and later Warren Fury were OK today.
Above all, we need to keep working towards playing for eighty minutes. That will come, once it comes it probably won’t be every week, but we should give at least one team (other than London Welsh) a bit of a pounding this season I hope, if we can get everything together.
Things are still looking up – for me, a top eight position would be a success this season and a top ten place adequate. We’re not going to win every week, and Sale are a competent side. We still look for more competitive than a year ago.
Now it’s time for the belated re-match against Stade Francais and the return to Paris. A couple of weeks to work on things before going to Harlequins for a game that, on recent evidence, looks winnable.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)