23RD WIN IN A ROW…JUST
On Saturday, Sale made the long cross-country journey to Herefordshire to take on Luctonians in their final game of the season. The blue and whites had already confirmed promotion two weeks ago but, for Luctonians, their goal was clear – they needed a bonus point win to avoid relegation and in hopeful anticipation, Mortimer Park was packed to the rafters.
The match started with both teams using their kicking games to good effect but it was Sale who made the first breakthrough. Following a mazy run from Chris Owen, the ref awarded a penalty to the visitors and, from the resulting scrum, the forwards pushed powerfully towards the try line with Tom Ailes diving over.
On 20 minutes, Sale, in their fluorescent away strip, extended the lead with a brilliant try. Superb runs from Matt Simpson, Joe Kelly and Tom Ailes took the title winners deep into the hosts’ half before Chris Johnson sprinted in and then added the conversion.
Sale were now beginning to dominate territory and looked dangerous every time they had the ball in hand. After Andy Hughes was held up over the line, the third try duly arrived as Tom Ailes again floated over from the base of the five-yard scrum.
The task was beginning to look impossible for the home side but they gave themselves a lifeline before half time as, following a good maul from the forwards, the ball was worked through the hands for Adam Clayton to score under the posts with Sam Boxhall adding the conversion.
HT Luctonians 7 Sale 19
Sale started the final 40 minutes positively and this was epitomised by a barnstorming run from hooker, Chris Taylor, but their superiority from the first half was not to last.
Buoyed on by the vocal home support, Luctonians began to crank up the pressure and eventually crashed over for their second try with Boxhall again adding the extras.
Sale made several changes in an attempt to stem the flow and this included sending on centre, Jack Moorhouse, to play flanker in place of the injured Gareth Rawlings.
Following wave after wave of attacks from the home side, Sale relieved the pressure in the 70th minute as Adam Aigbokhae marauded his way towards the opposition try line. When the black and whites were penalised for offside, Chris Johnson extended the lead back to 8 points with a penalty.
Still the Herefordshire men kept coming and they were rewarded with a third try in the 75th minute when Ben Barkley crashed over with the subsequent conversion narrowing the gap to a single point.
Sale seemed to have done enough when they secured the ball from the kick off and went through a few phases before replacement fly half, Matt Sturgess, kicked the ball into touch believing time was up.
However, to his dismay, the referee indicated that there was still time for the lineout to be taken and when he awarded a penalty to the hosts shortly afterwards, the fly half arrowed the ball into touch close to the try line to set up a frantic finale.
From the first throw, Joe Kelly was penalised for an infringement and shown a yellow card and when Luctonians secured the ball from the second lineout and pushed towards the line, it seemed inevitable that they would secure the crucial bonus point try and the win.
However, after several attempts to breach Sale’s defensive line and with the time in the red zone, the ball was lost in contact to the Champions obvious relief.
FT Luctonians 21 Sale 22
It was impossible not to feel sympathy for the Luctonians players at the final whistle. They had given absolutely everything to a man and had come within inches of avoiding the drop.
As for Sale, having already won the league, it would have been easy for the boys to take their foot off the pedal, but Jon, Tote and the players deserve enormous credit for the fact that they did not.
Instead, and as with every game this season, they put their hearts and souls into the full 80 minutes, defending as if their lives depended on it one last time.
This has been a very special season for a very special team and all at the club are immensely proud of their achievements. The coaches and players will now get some well-earned rest before they embark on what is bound to be a challenging, but incredibly exciting campaign in National League One.