A game of two Halves
If any game could be described as a game of two halves this was it. Sale came out on fire and within five minutes were 7-0 up due to some hard work, an overlap a driving maul and Tom Ailes going over for the opening score, the trusty boot of Liam McGovern saw the conversion slotted over from out wide in windy conditions. The composure of the captain when kicking cannot be overstated. The weather at Caldy was picture perfect with the scenic backdrop, but the wind was swirling and seemed to change direction constantly. Even given the change of wind direction half way through, this was a kicking masterclass, four penalties and two conversions mean that the last kick Liam has missed any kick, was the 56th Minute of the match against Leicester Lions on the 11th of February.
There was an exchange of penalties as Sale seemed to fall back to our old habits of getting on the wrong side of a referee who seemed to have markedly different interpretations of some of the laws of the game, with high tackles and breakdown areas causing particular issues again. After swapping a couple of penalties each, we then saw a pass go to ground, with Jack Moorhouse turning disadvantage into advantage he kicked the loose ball ahead, which popped into his hands for him to draw the player and send Sam Stelmaszek over for a superb try at pace. Liam McGovern duly put the conversion over and it started to look like Sale FC were on to spoil the party for Caldy. A “disagreement” between Scott Rawlings and Thomas Banks (from Caldy) saw both players needlessly given yellows and it was 14 a side for the last five minutes of the half. Half time score 23-6 to Sale FC. This was probably the best display of rugby we’d seen from Sale this season against what is now a National One side.
After the half, Caldy came out like a team who hadn’t lost since the opening game of the season and took control of the match. Within a minute, the top try scorer in the league Nick Royale demonstrated why Caldy haven’t lost since the opening day and scored for Caldy, a conversion and all of a sudden the momentum was with Caldy and it’s 23-13. Six minutes later and Caldy were over again and the big crowd started to get into full vocal flow, 23-20 to Sale and we were no longer in control but hanging on by a thread. The scrum was creaking and the boys were starting to feel the heat. Somehow Sale managed to pick up the pace and were rewarded with a Penalty to extend the lead to 6 points, with a lead of 26-20 we were headed into the final twenty minutes with a slight steadying of the ship and Sale kept hammering on the door and then the wheels fell off.
Our instrumental partnership in the centre was suddenly without a leader as Chris Johnson was yellow carded for a high tackle and we were down to 14 men. 15 on 15 and we might have held the tide, but Nick Royle again raced over to score, bringing the score to 25-26. If Caldy had any seats, we’d have been on the edge of them at that stage, the crowd was now in full voice as they could sense that they had their hands on the trophy and when the conversion went wide, Sale got out of jail, for a brief period and then, Ciaran Connolly was yellow carded just before Chris Johnson was about to come back on, so for the next couple of minutes it was 13 men against 15. However, Sale started to look stronger at this stage and threw everything at it, with an attempted drop goal from the newly returned Chris Johnson bouncing off the upright into the hands of Andy Hughes our tails were up. Andy was stopped metres short of the line and some massive but not always legal defence from Caldy saw them hold Sale out and a penalty against Sale sent us way back down the pitch.
Yet another penalty with five minutes to go and it went sailing through the uprights for Caldy to lead for the very first time in the match. 26-28 to Caldy. A few more half chances went begging but the boys were running on empty.
Full time 26-28
From a spectators point of view this was pure theatre, the weather, the backdrop and the game all contributed to the spectacle. Caldy have beaten every team in the league this season and had come to Heywood road and demonstrated their class. We arrived at Caldy with a plan and it became apparent it worked brilliantly for 40 minutes, three yellow cards and playing with 14 men for 25 minutes of the second half in that heat, essentially made our task twice as hard.
Caldy had built this occasion into a Sale Sharks “stars” Paolo Odogwu and Andy Hughes versus their plucky ex minis and juniors team, but that really only added to the theatre of the day (sadly for the crowd, Paolo was busy in Hong Kong) and also takes away from the fact that this Sale team is about being a team and not a collection of players. Jonathan Keep has done a sterling job in the last 12 months, moving us from the brink of relegation to National 3 North to the brink of promotion to National One and this is one of the reasons why.
This weekend, we demonstrated how far Sale have come this season by taking Caldy to the very limits. We congratulate Caldy on their victory on Sunday and their promotion to National One, they have thoroughly deserved both.
My abiding image of this game however, is not the score, nor the yellow cards, but, Dan Birchall sat on the pitch with nothing left to give after 80 minutes of top class rugby. Sale FC left it all on the pitch Saturday.
We now have two games left to pick up the points required to bring the Playoff to Heywood Road. The 22nd of April against Preston Grasshoppers is a must win game with five points needed. Get down and support the boys.