Considering the manner in which Sale have been beaten this season by the likes of Northampton, Saracens and Clermont, I thought, and not unreasonably, that we might have seen the worst of Sale's performances this season.
Today changed all that.
In what was the worst display of rugby by Sale I have seen, not just this season but in my 10 or so years of following the Sharks, Sale blew a 13-3 halftime lead to Leicester Tigers who eventually ran out 29-13 winners.
Losing to Leicester Tigers is not a problem. Losing away from home is not a total concern. Conceding nearly 30 points and a try bonus point isn't either although it is disconcerting. These things happen, sometimes all in the space of one dreary autumnal afternoon. But what made this the most abject display of rugby I have ever seen is the manner of the defeat.
This is a Sale team that lead comfortably at halftime. Their pack, as one would expect with it being as close to full strength as possible, was dominating Leicester's which was composed entirely of academy graduates. Leicester weren't even at the races except for a flurry of attacks in the last 10 minutes of the first half that Sale were able to repeal. The game was for Sale's to lose.
And lose they did.
Continuing a frankly embarrassing trend of collapsing inwards as soon as the team holds a lead over their opponents, Sale conceded 26 straight points in the second half to what was for all intents and purposes a third-string Tigers side. The Sale scrum (a full-strength, Premiership pack) was single-handeldy dismantled with the introduction of the returning Dan Cole. On their return to the field for the second-half, Sale played with no desire, purpose or flair as the scrum, along with every other aspect of the forward's game, fell apart. Sale's play with ball in hand was littered with either sloppy execution, miscommunication or poor decision making that compounded any inroads Sale managed to make against a resurgent Tigers team. Once again, the second string backline failed to make any impression that they deserved to be contending for a first team place. How Bryan Redpath continues to draw a wage from the club is simply mystifying considering the utter lack of anything resembling a prepared backs move on show today. Diamond as well must surely be under considerable scrutiny this weekend considering that despite this being acknowledged as a game and a competition Sale were invested in competing in and winning, it was his charges under his 'direction' that managed to blow a commanding lead against what could pass as a Championship side.
Dan Braid's comments in the post-match interview were especially damning in which, and excuse me for paraphrasing here, he essentially told the reporters "we (Sale Sharks) have no plan B". How can a Premiership standard team not have a secondary system to employ if their initial gameplan is not working? And considering that our first choice style of plan has won us only three games out of a possible 10 competitive games so far this season, questions need to be asked not only of the team but of the coaching staff as well.
The relative strength of the two sides today along with the score after 40 minutes points out to how pathetic Sale were in the second half. Rugby is a game of 80 minutes and Diamond needs to find a system that allows for effective play throughout the game instead of spending the last forty minutes clinging desperately to a slim lead. A truly disgusting performance and I feel for all those who made the journey to Welford Road.
The abjectness that was Sale's second half display this afternoon is making it hard for me to think of anything encouraging but there was, admittedly a few things to be pleased for:
I have already expounded the disgust I feel for Sale's performance today but there are a few more specific points I wanted to elucidate.
Sale's remaining games in the month of November, Irish at home, Harlequins and Falcons away, all in the Premiership now take on added importance considering the miseries of Sale's ERCC and LV campaigns. I cannot understate the importance of the next three weeks and I sincerely hope I do not have to write something similar to today's match report over the next few weeks. If I am forced to report on further defeats, I feel big changes might be coming to the club.
Feedback, comments, opinions are all appreciated both left here and on Twitter @SharkTankRugby. What did you make of today's game?