This was an eight try romp with a hat trick from Sale FC new boy Luke James (who rather amusingly Wikipedia have attributed his tries to his older brother Sam).
Although a 50 plus point score is always welcome, there is no denying that Tigers came to play and dominated the first ten minutes of play with a mobile forward pack, but for an errant penalty kick they should have had first blood, but the kick went just wide of the right post.
From then on, Sale took over until half time. Anthony Bingham with his first start this season seems to be as easy to tackle as a bar of soap moving at 35 miles an hour, caused absolute chaos with his darting runs, breaking the gain line pretty much every touch of the ball. Joe Kelly also seems to have found a new lease of life at Heywood road and was popping up everywhere also breaking the gain line and looking for work constantly in offence and defence.
Luke James was on the end of a lovely passage of play with forwards and backs combining and although the ball popped through Aaron Reed’s hands the referee judged it to be moving backwards. It landed in James’s waiting arms to go in unopposed. ten minutes gone and 5-0 to Sale. The conversion was easily taken by Chris Johnson to make it 7-0. Two minutes later Sale were penalised at the break down and Tigers reduced the deficit to make it 7-3.
The next 25 minutes of rugby, essentially took the game away from Tigers with the first of this batch of tries originating with a long kick which ended up in Ciaran Connolly’s hands who shot through a gap, passed to Jack Moorhouse who could potentially have gone all the way, but played the sensible route and sent Luke James in for his second try of the day 12-3 to Sale, with the conversion from the right hand touch line missed we stayed that way for another four minutes until Anthony Bingham went over for a try. This was another one which stretched the Tigers left under immense pressure from the forwards off a rolling maul and then a couple of pick and go’s to end up with Bingham who shrugged off two tacklers to score. Chris Johnson converted and we were now looking healthy at 19-3.
We didn’t need to wait long and at the stroke of half time, a moment of magic from Aaron Reed after Jack Moorhouse and Luke James pressured the Tigers on their 22 to fumble the ball. A backwards flick pass off the touchline into the hands of Luke James who popped it up for Joe Kelly to run in for the fourth try and Sale’s Bonus point. The only downside for the supporters is the intricacy of that play was furthest from the clubhouse. Fortunately it’s captured on the video highlights. Chris Johnson, from roughly the same place as the previously missed conversion made no mistake this time and we went in on the half 26-3.
Clearly during the half time break Tigers had a few moments to gather themselves and came out showing why they can be dangerous in this league, some quick hands and a couple of lovely steps from Tigers’ man of the match Lee Monks set up the scrum half to dart over just to the right of the posts. Sale 26 Tigers 8. Tigers looked like they were out to get back in the match and again like the first half looked dangerous. They camped themselves down on the Sale FC line but a series of penalty line outs were lost and their momentum disappeared.
The try and subsequent onslaught however, seemed to spur Sale on and they started running harder and faster at pace with Bingham’s runs needing at least three tacklers every time. This lead to Joe Kelly picking up at the base of the ruck, and powering through, popping the ball up for returning captain Andy Hughes getting his first start to the season, drawing the last man to tackle and sending Luke James in for his third try of the day. Conversion taken and we were 33-8.
The heavens then opened but there was no lessening in pace or handling skills from both sides. Less than ten minutes later our replacement hooker Nic Dolly performed a cross field kick into Ciaran Connolly’s arms at pace to send us to 38-8. There was a time when a hooker kicking a ball would normally only have been to hook in a scrum or out of the hands of a scrum half, to watch a perfectly flighted ball land in a winger’s arms is something I’m sure supporters (but possibly not coaches) would love to see more of.
Sale weren’t finished yet. Andy Hughes took a catch at the lineout and with a driving maul set up, Tigers were no match for the power up front at this late stage of the game and Ollie Longmore scored a more traditional try by a front rower by driving it over the line. Matt Bradley had literally just come back on for Chris Johnson and sent the conversion just wide.
More was to come, with three minutes left on the clock, Andy Hughes found himself in space made 20 metres, offloaded to Adam Aigbokhae 40 metres out. With a turn of speed, he stepped left and headed for the line to bring up our eighth try of the day. The conversion was completed by Matt Bradley to bring us to Sale FC 52 Tigers 8.
To be honest, most teams would have packed it in with one minute on the clock, but with the final play of the game, Tigers player Lee Monks took off the back of a scrum and made a good 30 metres to offload to Henri Packard who outpaced the defence to score, with the conversion completed by Thomas Farrell, the final score was 52-15.
Although Luke James scored 3 tries, this was a total team game from 1-20. Rhys Davies was everywhere again, his quick hands and considerable pace means he can open up the backs quickly when required and his line out skills are obvious. Gaz Rawlings must be a nightmare to play against and seems to be at the heart of pretty much every breakdown. Tom Ailes carried hard and straight this week, agains making inroads to create space to wide. This game in fact was a real example of Forwards win you games, backs determine the score. A dominant display up front with Simon Griffiths starting for the first time at Heywood Road. Andy Hughes also seems to be getting back to his best having come off the bench in the last two games. This is the first time in a long time that Sale FC have real strength in depth. Although the Man of The Match was Luke James, we could really have chosen just about anyone. After the disappointment of last week, Sale FC hopefully have got themselves back on track.