This was a game Sale should realistically have scored another 20 points or so, but the first half saw a spirited and committed Chester team take advantage when they had a chance and in the blink of an eye were 2 tries up for a 12-0 lead. Both their tries in the same corner, with the same overlap taken with skill and precision. It did look at this point the wheels might fall off the move towards a home playoff.
Even though we were 12-0 down, we were quite unlucky not to be three tries ahead, one penalty given for player in front of the kicker when there was a three on none, one “forward pass” with a two on one, and a penalty given against Sale for an obstruction on the line. The first half instead saw a slew of errors leading to penalties galore (with a ratio of 14 penalties to 7 at the final whistle). In fact at one point it was not particularly clear if the referee had two arms such was the frequency of penalties awarded against Sale in the first half.
Sale finally managed to regain a semblance of control over the game with Jack Moorhouse weaving through traffic and heading into the corner for his 18th try of the season. Even with this tough angle the kick for Liam McGovern seemed to be pretty much routine and suddenly Sale were back in the game 12-7.
Sale went in for half time 12-7 down with 40 minutes left to let their class shine through. And shine it did. I’m reliably informed that there were some “concrete” discussions at half time which can’t and won’t be repeated, but it was clear from the way they came back out that Sale felt the first half was something they’d rather not repeat.
In fact, it wasn’t long before a penalty try was awarded against a struggling Chester pack. A penalty for not releasing in the tackle, lead to a line out catch at the front by Andrew Hughes into a driving maul. Chester who were then on the back foot, made the decision to drag down the maul just short of the line. A penalty try was awarded and a Chester player sent to the bin for 10 minutes. The penalty try/yellow may have seemed harsh for a first offence, but the referee’s judgement was that the maul would have lead to a try and there had been warnings for both teams prior to this. This may well have lead to the unravelling of Chester’s afternoon, but, Sale FC certainly seemed to have already put their foot down, upped the pace and turned the screw. Conversion in front of the posts and it was 14-12 to Sale FC.
All of a sudden, penalties were being awarded in our favour, our tails were up and a quick set of hands lead Tom Ailes to a big 30 metre charge straight through some desperate defence to score and followed up by the inevitable Liam McGovern conversion, Sale were 21-12 ahead.
The combination at scrum half/centre was starting to work more smoothly and with our new signing Matt Bradley upping the tempo things were looking far more comfortable for the home side. The big strike running of Scott Rawlings was also causing chaos in the midfield, Chester were struggling to bring him down and our platform was set more consistently because of this.
The departure of Rhys Davies from the field to be replaced by Matt Postlethwaite must be one of those moments as an opposing player where your delight at seeing the departure from the field of a class player to only see Big Matt jogging across the pitch toward you makes your heart both soar and crash at the same time. Within a few minutes Chris Johnson kicked ahead where Ciaran Connolly with a little bit of space showed his Gaelic Football skills gathering a bouncing ball at pace, with only a despairing tackle by the Chester defender preventing another try from the offload, in contact the ball was knocked on by Chester.
The subsequent attacking scrum created a break with Tom Ailes off the base, ably supported again by Andrew Hughes who went over for his 6th try in 9 games and our bonus point was secured. Conversion duly slotted over by Liam McGovern for a 28-12 lead. Chester still had ambitions to get back in the game and yet another well taken try brought them back to 28-19 for a respectable score but time had run out for the visitors and final whistle went.
Sale never looked like losing this game, but, didn’t play brilliantly as a unit. There were some stand out performances, but in games like this, the twinkle toes of wingers like Ciaran Connolly and Sam Stelmaszek were never going to get enough room to fly and it was left to the big units up the middle to put the points on the board.
From a spectator point of view, Andrew Hughes continues to impress, he never seems to give up a lost ball or be too far away from every piece of action. Having said that, there are also players like Jamie Bache who do a huge amount of work around the park but aren’t always the most glamorous. In fact the engine room of this team seems to stem from the mobility of a big pack with players like Rhys Davies, Matthew Postlethwaite and a formidable front row with Dan Birchall being rock steady today against a strong pack.
As the captain Liam McGovern said post match, this team is good and you can see that when we win, even though we’ve not played at our best.
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