This is a new weekly feature for the 2015/16 season that looks at Sale's previous game and attempts to form a number of opinions and ideas to takeaway from the weekend's result by using statistics rather than the standard 'eye test'. All statistics are provided by Premiershiprugby.com
Josh Beaumont was definitely Man-Of-The-Match
I love it when the statistics vindicate my immediate post-match impressions. On Friday night Josh Beaumont carried 11 times for 76 metres made, beating seven(!) defenders in the process, made two clean breaks, scored a try, and as lineout captain oversaw a set-piece that went 14-for-14. Those attacking numbers are simply phenomenal and proof that for now at least, Beaumont's optimum position remains Number 8.
And Tom Arscott was definitely Sale's most dangerous back
78 metres made on 12 carries, six defenders beaten, four clean breaks and three of Sale's impressive 14 total off-loads for the former Worcester winger against his old side. The improvements Arscott continues to make in his game are noticeable and whilst other backline players floundered on Friday, Arscott looks to have continued from right where he left off last season as one of Sale's most incisive attacking players. It would be a great shame should Sale have to move him from the wing where he has played the best rugby of his time in Manchester.
The Bosh Brothers not quite at their best
The return of the fabled hard-tackling and hard-running Sam Tuitupou/Johnny Leota centre partnership should have been enough to substantially worry Worcester last weekend, however an uncharacteristically ineffective display by the two Pacific Islanders alleviated much of the danger and pressure Worcester would have been expecting on their visit to the AJ Bell stadium.
Tuitupou and Leota averaged a paltry 2 and 1.912 metres per carry respectively and struggled to generate any forward momentum from the Sharks' midfield, which in turn allowed the Worcester defence to key in on Sale's outside backs and stymie many of Sale's attempts to put the ball through their backs' hands. That said the pair combined for only a single missed tackle on seven attempts to keep Worcester's attack at bay.
A surprising lack of turnovers
Through two games, Sale's renowned stratagem of employing two 'fetcher' style flankers at both the openside and blindside positions has resulted in precisely... zero turnovers.
But this surprising lack of efficiency from two of the very best breakdown operators in the Premiership does not solely fall on the feet of Dan Braid and David Seymour, instead there is reason to believe it is turning into something of a pandemic. Through 160 minutes of domestic action in the new season, nobody on the entire Sharks roster has managed to record a single, official turnover despite Sale's gameplan placing a heavy emphasis upon recovering the ball at the breakdown. It is hard to imagine this continues for much longer of course, but it is pertinent to at least acknowledge in the season's early going.
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Sale rebounded fantastically from last weekend's humbling at Saracens to secure a hard-fought, but deserved bonus-point victory over Worcester Warriors, 27-13.
A Johnny Leota try from close range with the clock dead won Sale their fifth point of the night, despite much of the last twenty minutes having been played with Worcester in the ascendancy as they looked for a converted try to tie the game up at 20 points apiece.
Tries from Danny Cipriani, David Seymour and Josh Beaumont had given Sale the lead before two long-range Ryan Mills penalties and a converted try from Johnny Arr brought Worcester back to within seven.
However a fantastic scrum win against the head set in motion a furious three minutes of Sale attack that resulted in Leota's try, the securing of Sale's bonus point and the denial of any sort of consolation for a Warriors team who were second best throughout.
A fantastic bounce-back result now sees Sale have five points and their first win of the season in the bag with eight days rest before Northampton visit next Sunday. Another controlled performance like Friday's should make for a very exciting giant-slaying clash. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions.
Friday night rugby returns (even if the crowds from Edgeley Park probably won't) to the North-West with Sale's first home game of the 2015-16 season, a suddenly tasty matchup with Worcester following the Warriors' shock 13-12 victory over Northampton Saints last week and Sale's capitulation at the Allianz against Saracens.
Sale starting XV: 15.Mike Haley, 14. Tom Arscott, 13. Johnny Leota, 12. Sam Tuitupou, 11. Will Addison, 10. Danny Cipriani, 9. Chris Cusiter, 1. Ross Harrison, 2.Tommy Taylor, 3. Vadim Cobilas, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Jonathan Mills, 6. Dan Braid (capt), 7. David Seymour, 8. Josh Beaumont
Replacements: 16. Neil Briggs, 17. James Flynn, 18. Brian Mujati, 19. Andrei Ostrikov, 20. TJ Ioane, 21. Peter Stringer, 22. Nick Macleod, 23. Sam James
Here are three things to watch out for as Sale look to get their first win and points on the board and bounce back from that horrendous trip to North London:
TJ Ioane Returns
The mercurial Samoan flanker, who far and away was Sale's most impressive representative in this year's Rugby World Cup, makes a welcome return to the Sale matchday 23, albeit on the bench for Friday's game. Sale desperately lacked intensity - both at the breakdown and with their ball-carriers last Saturday, a problem Ioane's inclusion should immediately rectify. The potential impact the Samoan could make off the bench in relief of Dan Braid after say, 55 minutes is tantalizing.
As do the Bosh Brothers
Although they both come under immense criticism for their extremely similar styles of play from the Sale faithful, it is easier to forget the relative riches Sale enjoy in their midfield with both Johnny Leota and Sam Tuitupou. The return of the hard-hitting and abrasive pairing should help solidify Sale's midfield defence and also add even more physicality in what should be an autumnal arm-wrestling contest of a rugby game between two hard-nosed sides.
The inclusion of Sam James on the bench also gives Sale a more dynamic offensive option to utilise if the game begins to open up. Its a nice trio of skill-sets to have available to employ.
Vadim Cobilas' 100th Game
Unbeknownst to myself until the official press release came out earlier on Thursday; Vadim Cobilas will make his 100th appearance in a Sale shirt with his expected start on Friday. Considering Cobilas' unorthodox background, joining the Premiership and Sale directly from VVA-Podmoskovye Monino in Russia, the sheer fact that the Moldovan has made it to a centenary of appearances for the Premiership club is an unbelievable appearance, and is one the club cult favourite should be immensely proud of having established himself as one of the very best and most consistent players at the club along the way. And to think we can have Brian Mujati coming off the bench after an hour. Is this what it feels like to support a big club?
Prediction: Sale Sharks 27 - 19 Worcester Warriors
Tapping into that spring of perhaps misguided preseason optimism that saw me egg-faced at Saracens last week; I anticipate a significant rebound from the Sharks on Friday night. Yes Sale were piss-poor last weekend but to expect a similar performance two weeks in a row suggests an innate lack of knowledge of how Sale's form fluctuates every season, and although Worcester somehow emerged victorious over the mighty Saints last Friday, it was by the very finest of margins and Northampton were woeful. Will Worcester be a tougher test than London Welsh last season? Of course, but Sale on a Friday night, heading towards winter, and at home, are a bloody tough team to beat regardless of who is travelling to the AJ Bell. A much more balanced pack and the returns of a few key players should push Sale to a victory, although I doubt it will be very comfortable.
This is a new weekly feature for the 2015/16 season that looks at Sale's previous game and attempts to form a number of opinions and ideas to takeaway from the weekend's result by using statistics rather than the standard 'eye test'. All statistics are provided by Premiershiprugby.com
Mike Haley and Will Addison's up-and-down games
Sale were played off the park in resounding fashion by reigning Premiership champions Saracens on Saturday with only a small handful of players emerging with any credibility for their afternoon efforts. Mike Haley and Will Addison were somewhat enigmatic during the weekend's game however, impressing on a number of fronts but also performing poorly in offers.
First the good. Despite only making a single clean break, Will Addison led the team on Saturday with four defenders beaten and the most metres made (50) of any Sale player (excluding Mike Haley, whose position of fullback guarantees him a number of 'easy' metres due to the nature of his positioning on the field).
In addition Mike Haley compiled the most clean breaks (3) for Sale and made 100 metres, albeit on 21 carrys, albeit with that number inflated by his position. He also apparently won a lineout. Who needs a fourth lock in the squad?
The bad however was the turnovers. Between the two of them, Haley and Addison combined to conceded 8 of Sale's 20 turnovers on the day (Addison - 3, Haley - 5) a ludicrously high number that was a pivotal reason why Sale struggled to gain any ascendancy and territory especially in the first half. Addison also woefully missed a tackle on Tim Streather that directly resulted in Saracens' third try.
Overall there were some positives for two of Sale's brightest young, attacking threats, but also plenty for them to work upon for Friday.
Mark Easter's no-good, very bad day
Mark Easter continued to not be a Number 8 on Saturday, carrying the ball 10 times for a grand total of... 11 metres. Although he did not miss a tackle (because he's actually a decent flanker) and offloaded the ball a surprising four times, Easter also conceded two penalties, both offsides, both in the first half, once again adding to Saracens' oppressive and continuous pressure during the first forty.
Arguably a more notable knock-on effect of Easter's selection however was that Josh Beaumont, No.8 extraordinaire, only carried the ball a paltry three times (for 8 metres made). Easter simply doesn't give enough at the No.8 position and as a consequence reduces the effectiveness of one of Sale's best ball-carriers.
If Beaumont is staying at lock for Friday, please play Vilhami Fihaki or TJ Ioane at Number 8 instead Dimes.
Sale managed only a single lineout steal on Saturday. Having watched the game I feel Bryn Evans (the recipient of that single steal) was unlucky not to have snagged more because of the pressure he exerted on the Saracens' set-piece, however rugby, like all sports, is a game of small margins and Sale were never going to win a game with only one turnover at the lineout. Sale lost 2 of their own lineouts on 12 attempts, whereas Saracens lost only 1 in 19 attempts, a gulf that big is also going to give one side a huge advantage in territory and opportunities to put points on the board.
An overmatched front row
Before last week's game, much of Sale's optimism revolved around a powerful new-look front row complete with two budding English talents (Ross Harrison and Tommy Taylor) and Sale's star summer addition, Brian Mujati. However that optimism came to a shuddering holt on Saturday where the Sharks' trio of front rowers were comprehensively outmatched and outscrummed.
Harrison, Taylor, and Mujati conceded a total of five penalties (four at the scrum) in sixty minutes of action as Sale's pack folded unilaterally against a far superior Saracens scrum. Considering the importance (and money) invested in the Sale front row, so much more is required from that position of the Sale scrum after a very shaky debut.
Turnovers and penalties will always kill you
The comparative team stats for Saturday do not make for easy reading. Sale conceded a staggering 20 turnovers compared to Saracens' 12 and 15 penalties to the Fez Heads' 10. Saracens are so merciless when it comes to punishing mistakes that with those numbers, it is no surprise Sarries were able to put forty points on Sale. Discipline, both with ball-in-hand, at the breakdown, and in defence, need a rapid improvement if Sale are to not replicate this performance against Worcester on Friday.
It's not all doom and gloom
Ever the optimist, I did find some reason for Sale fans to be cheerful this week. Although I should qualify there is a good chance the numbers are skewed this way because of Saracens' large lead for much of the game and subsequent lack of need to press and attack; Sale actually made more metres (397-347, albeit on more carries), beat more defenders (20-13), made more clean breaks (11-7), and off-loaded the ball more (14-5) than their Premiership counterparts. It is, of course, only one game, but such attacking fluency especially in off-loading suggests Paul Deacon's appointment as attack coach is beginning to bear some fruit, even against a defence as stifling as Saracens' was on Saturday.
Lewis Hughes thinks 'Shark Data' is a pretty rubbish name for this column and welcomes any suggestions readers have for a more apt or clever title. He also welcomes any feedback on this column and the other recent changes made to the website. You can also follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions.
Sale's hopes of achieving a third top-six finish in five years ended after only their first game of the 2015-16 season having been humiliated 41-3 at Allianz Park by a Saracens side, who, on the basis of this performance, are fully deserving of their mantle of 'reigning champions.
Anybody in attendance or watching the game online can attest that Sale were simply appalling on Saturday afternoon; a Danny Cipriani penalty the only points the Sharks were able to muster against a fearsome Saracens defence that conclusively smothered Sale all afternoon.
Indeed on the basis of this weekend's performances Sale should be more concerned about the possibility of being usurped by Worcester as the favourites to be relegated from the Premiership than being in contention to qualify for next season's Champions Cup.
Credit where credit is due, Saracens ubiquitously played Sale off the park to open both sides' seasons, but worryingly, this was supposed to be an understrength Saracens side that Sale could potentially have scalped to kick start their season. Instead the stark contrast between the ability of the very best Premiership sides and this year's iteration of Sale Sharks was laid bare for all to see on Saturday.
The first home game of Sale's season is next Friday; a suddenly pivotal clash that could shape the direction of Sale's season after only two games. A win would certainly settle the rattled nerves suffered this weekend, a loss could signal another season similar to the disaster that was 2012-13.
It is with the upmost delight and pleasure that I present to you, cherished readers of The Shark Tank, the very first Three Things preview of the season. Sale prepare to open their season Saturday afternoon with a relatively straightforward trip down to Allianz Park to play Saracens. Apparently they won something last season. Oh well, 5 points please boys.
Starting Sale XV 15. Mike Haley, 14. Tom Arscott, 13. Sam James, 12. Sam Tuitupou, 11. Will Addison, 10. Danny Cipriani, 9. Chris Cusiter, 1. Ross Harrison, 2. Tommy Taylor, 3. Brian Mujati, 4. Josh Beaumont, 5. Bryn Evans, 6. Dan Braid (captain), 7. David Seymour, 8. Mark Easter
Replacements: 16. Neil Briggs, 17. James Flynn, 18. Vadim Cobilas, 19. Jonathan Mills, 20. Magnus Lund, 21. Peter Stringer, 22. Nick Macleod, 23. Mark Jennings
The travesty that is Vilhami Fihaki's omission
The most notable selection made for this, the most crucial of opening weekend fixtures in that ever-important "World Cup Year", was the decision to start Josh Beaumont at lock and have Mark Easter at No.8
I wrote last week about how Beaumont's future could very well lie in the donkey row as opposed to the back row, so Beaumont's selection there is by no means a poor choice. In fact the athletic potential of a second row pairing of Bryn Evans and Josh Beaumont is tantalising and one I cannot wait to see unleashed on Saracens tomorrow, but why oh why is Mark Easter starting at No.8?
I cannot say this clearly enough: Mark is not, and will never be, a Number 8. He's a damn good defensive blindside flanker and there is certainly a place in the Sale squad for him but unlike his brother Nick, Mark has neither the destructive ball-carrying talent or the off-loading ability to be considered a viable option at Number 8 in the Premiership.
But Easter's selection would not be as frustrating if it hadn't been for the Brobdingnagian improvement shown by Vilhami Fihaki in this year's preseason. The Tongan Number 8's hard and powerful running and bone-crunching tackles illustrate a player that is a far cry from the undependable, and ill-discplined figure that came to Manchester two seasons ago. To not have Fihaki start against a team as mobile and powerful as Saracens is infuriating. To not even have him on the bench is criminal.
Big tests for Mike Haley
Two players who will have the spotlight firmly planted upon them tomorrow afternoon in North London will be English duo Mike Haley and Sam James, albeit for very different reasons.
Haley burst into the first team last season to much acclaim and fanfare, and in truth, over the course of the season managed to play Luke McLean, an international fullback with 75 caps to his name, out of a job. But Haley's season, especially the second half, was marked by inconsistencies and frustrating mistakes, usually in regards to passing or handling.
With McLean gone and no replacement being made over the summer, Haley in effect has the starting 15 jersey all to himself, but it is up to the 21 year-old to decisively make the shirt his own both for now and in the future, by building upon the exciting promise he showed last season and eradicating the simple mistakes that plagued the second half of his debut season. It is an evolution that has to begin on Saturday against the stern test of Saracens.
Saracens missing some, but not all their England internationals
Arguably the most disappointing aspect of England's abysmal home World Cup campaign, at least from a Sale point of view, was that many of the elite Premiership talents expected to be still plying their trade at the highest international level for another fortnight are already back and reporting for duty with their Premiership clubs.
Indeed the intimidating prospect of taking down Saracens away from home became that much easier when Sale would ostensibly be playing against a side missing at least eight senior members of the squad away with England (and not counting the further eight internationals representing other foreign nations), which unfortunately is no longer a reality.
The good news is that Saracens do not have Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Richard Wigglesworth, Jacque Burger, Chris Wyles, Samuela Vunisa, Marcelo Bosch and so on and so far at their disposal on Saturday.
The bad news is Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Jamie George and Alex Goode were all named in Saracens' matchday 23. Sale's task is still significantly easier because of the ubiquitous mitigating factor that is the World Cup, but with the insane, salary cap-circumventing depth that Saracens possess, it is a task that still looks positively herculean.
Prediction: Saracens ? - ? Sale Sharks
I have no idea. Sale have a tendency to always run Sarries close at the Allianz and perhaps the Fez Head's long list of World Cup omissions will just about give Sale an edge, but its impossible to say with a brand-new Sale team in a brand-new season that still needs to be properly evaluated. Sayyyulll.
Lewis Hughes plans on writing at least 21 more Three Things features this season and is hoping to reach 300 followers on Twitter before tomorrow's game. Please follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more updates, opinions and analysis of all things Sale Sharks
I should preface this article with the concession that should Mr Beaumont at any point this season inform the Sale coaching brass that he sees himself as a a Number 8 and not a Lock, this entire article becomes meaningless.
In the barren rugby wasteland that is the North-West, star players (and even just 'good' ones) are difficult - albeit not impossible - to recruit for clubs like Sale. Bringing talented players through an academy therefore is an absolute necessity for the long term survival of smaller sides in unorthodox rugby markets like the Sharks.
Considering his performances last season and the huge potential he still has room to grow into, Beaumont is arguably the best player to come through Sale's academy in the last five, maybe even ten, years. So if Beaumont considers his future career to be based at the back, rather than the middle of the scrum and playing there would a) make him more comfortable and happy with his role within the club and b) make him more likely to commit to Sale long-term, then you play him where ever the damn hell he wants to play.
Beaumont is simply far too talented a player for Sale to let slip from their grasp over something as benign as his preferred position, especially as Beaumont's skillset, centred around his role as lineout captain and dominant ball-carrying, allows him to function equally as well (read: at a game-changing level) as either a Lock or a Number 8.
With that out of the way however it is my belief, so long as Sale and England's budding star has no oppositions to it, that Josh Beaumont should see the majority of his gametime this season playing as a Lock for Sale.
Beaumont's meteoric emergence as Sale's best Number 8 since Sebastian Chabal last season was astounding to watch for sure, so why am I so keen to move the next possible Sale captain away from a position that he ranked as one of the best in the league at last season, aged only 23?
It comes down to a matter of managing assets.
With a squad as small as Sale's, versatility to play multiple positions is an absolute necessity to being considered a weekly starter. Beaumont's ability to cover both the second and backrows only adds to the importance of his role within the club, and injury-free fitness permitting, that ability will ensure Beaumont will be one of the first names on the team sheet every week, regardless of which position he starts at.
However a closer look at Beaumont's fellow players as part of the back-five of the Sale pack should hopefully explain my reasoning why I believe the 23 year-old needs to be playing more as a Lock than an 8 this season.
One of the few adequately-deep positions in the current Sale squad is the backrow. Dan Braid, David Seymour, Magnus Lund, TJ Ioane, Vilhami Fihaki, Mark Easter and of course Beaumont, backed by youngsters Liam Parfitt and Andy Hughes give Sale a potent reserve of (mainly) Premiership quality players to field every single week. The reemergence of Vilhami Fihaki's previously-absent form in preseason and TJ Ioane's quality showings for Samoa at the World Cup have only added to the excitement surrounding Sale's collection of breakdown enthusiasts and smash-mouth ballcarriers heading into the new season.
Depending on scenario, injury or any number of qualifiers, Sale have the ability to chop and change their backrow to form any number of combinations, many of which I am sure will include Beaumont at Number 8.
The problem lies at Lock.
As impressed as I have been by Bryn Evans' early showings in a Sale shirt, there is no doubt in my mind (and there shouldn't be in yours either) that Josh Beaumont is not only Sale's best Number 8, he's also the best Lock at the club as well.
That's not to take anything away from Sale's current second row contingent of Evans, Jonathan Mills and Andrei Ostrikov. I am a huge fan of Mills' work ethic in securing hard yards, clearing out breakdowns and his mastery of the, ahem, "dark arts" of forward play. Similarly, nothing is more exciting to watch than Andrei Ostrikov in full-flight, huge arms looping around in the unorthodox ball-carrying style of his. The 6ft 6", 18 stone lock also adds a huge amount of muscle and power to Sale's pack, particularly useful in fixtures against the more powerful scrummaging sides in the league i.e. Saracens and Leicester.
However anybody who watched Beaumont last season is already aware that in terms of an all-round game, Beaumont is light years ahead of any of the three. Evans and Ostrikov might be capped internationals, but neither of them will achieve what Beaumont feasibly should if his continues on his current projectory.
So the situation is this; Sale have only three first-team Locks for a highly-demanding position that requires two to be on the field at all times. They have a collection of highly-skilled and in-form backrowers that allows them to put out a plethora of different combinations on any given week. And they have Josh Beaumont, one of the finest talents to come out of the club in recent years, an almost assured future England international (no there is not an Anti-Northern bias in the RFU) who's versatile skillset allows him to be equally dominant at either Lock or No.8.
If you haven't joined the dots together yet I shall do it for you; Sale do not have the depth of talent in the second row that they do in the backrow. Therefore even if it becomes apparent Beaumont is marginally better as an 8 than say a 5, he is so talented at either position that Sale can afford to move him into the second row, bolstering their weekly options there (Evans and Beaumont would become my go-to combination with possibly Ostrikov off the bench, EQP not permitting) and allow their pool of talent in the backrow to cover Beaumont's absence (Vilhami Fihaki and TJ Ioane could arguably be two of the most important players in the entire Sale squad this season).
Is it ideal? Probably not, I love Beaumont as a Number 8 and still hope Sale can bring in another lock post-World Cup to allow Beaumont to continue his fine form as a free-ranging No.8. However with Sale's current iteration of players considered, it just makes more sense in managing the squad to have Beaumont play predominately at Lock this season.
That is, unless he has any disagreements with it.
If Lewis Hughes was Sale coach he would probably let Josh Beaumont play inside centre if he wanted to. Follow SharkTankRugby on Twitter here, and Lewis' personal Instagram here.
Having been able to catch the abridged highlights of the Sale - Newcastle Kings Of The North game on Friday thanks in no small part to the excellent official Sale Sharks YouTube channel, I thought I'd just chime in with some very, very quick thoughts:
Nick Macleod's kicking - both off the tee and in-play - looks to have become noticeably more assured and confident over the summer following Paul Deacon's arrival. I speculated earlier this year that Deacon's cross-code switch from Wigan could be an astute piece of business that turns former middling squad players into dependable members of a top-flight team and Macleod appears to have been one of the main early beneficiaries.
Josh Beaumont's short-range game is scarily good. Sale's third try on Friday night was born from the fact Beaumont, with little-to-none forward momentum (albeit with some help from Tommy Taylor) was able to fend off three Falcons defenders to power over the line. A truly unbelievable talent.
Fellow Number 8 Vilhami Fihaki also continued an impressive pre-season with a try of his own, following some (and this is where the benefits of having accessible highlights becomes handy) very smart play at the back of a rolling maul that saw Fihaki, realise he wasn't held in the tackle when the maul first splintered, got up unopposed, regathered his position behind Braid and co. and dived over the whitewash. A very encouraging passage of play for a player who, like Macleod could become very important for Sale this year.
Mike Haley and Tom Arscott both put together a nice break or two apiece on Friday. With the forwards-heavy gameplan Sale employ, having players with the ability to (counter)attack with such incisiveness and efficiency makes the team that much more dangerous to compete with. Haley in particular is a player it is encouraging to see regain some of the dangerous form he exhibited early last season. More of the same, please.