Ed. A big thank you to Matt Ferguson who has compiled reports from yesterday's Singha 7s tournament at Kingston Park that saw Sale progress as Pool D runners-up behind Newcastle. I have added some additional thoughts at the end.
Newcastle Falcons 31-12 Sale Sharks
Sale started very brightly against a Newcastle team that before today hadn’t lost a Premiership Sevens group game. Nick Scott (on trial this summer) was impressive going forward and Matt Rogerson displayed great strength to tie up a couple of Newcastle defenders before he was able to barrel over after a period of sustained pressure. Player of the Round Paolo Odogwu scored his first try of the day after a nice offload from Scott, slipping the tackle on the outside and finishing in the corner. Tom Morton dully converted with an excellent touchline conversion.
The rest of the half was fairly scrappy, with Sale’s defence working well as a unit, strangling the potent Newcastle attack, but with Sale unable to keep from making offensive mistakes themselves.
Half Time 12-0 (Rogerson, Odogwu, conv. Morton)
The second half started badly, and got progressively worse, as Sale shipped five unanswered tries in the half to ultimately lose in decisive fashion.
Tom Curry and Rogerson were both slow to close a defensive gap, and Joel Hodgson darted through for the Falcons’ first try. Newcastle then started to dominate the aerial game, keeping possession on the restart, and two more tries were conceded after poor one-on-one missed tackles from James Mitchell and later, Morton. For Newcastle’s fourth, their attacking pressure told after several good half-breaks, and no individual Sale player was really to blame when the Falcons eventually breached the line. The final try was the worst of the lot, George Nott slapping a restart backwards, straight into the arms of an onrushing Falcon who dotted down to end the game.
Full Time 31-12
Leicester Tigers 7-55 Sale Sharks
Sale’s second game against Leicester could hardly have started more ominously, a Leicester player claiming the high ball from the kick-off to score within the first ten seconds. Odogwu brought back parity after a good charge from Rogerson, the former Tiger finishing well after slipping the defender’s outside arm on the touchline.
Sale’s next try was a throwback to last year, a scrum shove winning the ball against the head, and Mitchell dancing over from the resulting defensive disarray. Nick Scott again showed his class at this level, bursting around an outside shoulder off first phase ball and delivering out to Odogwu who continued his fine scoring record.
It was Odogwu who would score Sale’s last of the half, ensuring the bonus point after some smart heads-up rugby from each of the Curry twins and after exhibiting his own fancy footwork, slicing inside the outside man in the Leicester defensive line to dot down and secure a first-half hat-trick.
Half Time 24-7 (Odogwu x3, Mitchell, conv. Mitchell x2)
Leicester had played with five men in the previous game due to yellow cards, and their collective fatigue showed as Sale put the hammer down emphatically in the second half, scoring a further five tries to banish memories of their dismal second half showing against Falcons.
A Curry-to-Curry cross-field kick was an early highlight of the half, leading to a short-range try for Rogerson, his second of the day. Sam Bedlow was the next to crash over, after some lovely balanced running through a gap created by the footwork of Mitchell. A second Tom Curry assist allowed Odogwu to bag another, before Ben Curry scored the archetypal sevens try, Sale pulling the Leicester defence from side to side until the necessary gap was manufactured. Ben Curry scored his second to finish affairs cutting inside of an errant tackle to go over and ensure that Sale would finish the second game having completely overwhelmed an understandably shattered Leicester.
Full Time 55-7 (Rogerson, Bedlow, Odogwu, B Curry x2, conv. Mitchell, Morton)
Sale Sharks 31-0 Worcester Warriors
Worcester were also unfortunate enough to have to play back-to-back games and from the start the lack of pace in the Worcester team was evident.
After a smart steal by Ben Curry at ruck-time, Nick Scott surged over, showing both dramatic acceleration and good strength to burst through a half-gap having taken a step back with the ball before propelling himself through two defenders. Odogwu scored his sixth of the day after an exquisite blind offload from Rogerson, who seemed wrapped up but was able to flip the ball to the elusive winger.
The rest of the half was very scrappy, Sale forcing Worcester to play from their own 22. For five of the six halves played (the exception being the 2nd half against Newcastle), Sale’s defensive looked very cohesive and co-ordinated, several times able to alleviate pressure by forcing attacking players up into a maul, a hallmark of the senior XVs side in recent years.
Half Time 12-0 (Scott, Odogwu, conv. Mitchell)
Sale would go on to score three more tries against a tiring Worcester side, who were unable to play out of their own half and seriously threaten Sale territorially. Odogwu slid around the outside man to score in the corner yet again, before Mitchell danced and weaved his way through the middle, Worcester’s defence hesitant to commit because of the outside threat posed by Odogwu. Indeed it was Odogwu who would finish Sale’s scoring for the day, working the space nicely by stepping inside the wide defender, who had no choice but to commit on the outside, to run in his eight try of the afternoon. The game was finished as a contest fairly early, and neither side went hell-for-leather in the second half, understandably.
Full Time 31-0 (Odogwu x2, Mitchell, conv. Mitchell x2)
So Sale go through to the final weekend after an excellent day’s work. The group was very competitive, and the fact that Sale were able to avoid back-to-back games was key, as they were noticeable better rested than their opponents in the latter two games. Importantly , they were also able to keep their fitness levels at an optimum level due to their exemplary discipline on the day (no yellow cards across the three games).
Fixture luck aside, to keep Leicester and Worcester virtually scoreless across the final two games is testament to Sale’s professional execution of their defensive system, and the use of Odogwu as both a try scorer and as a threat that keeps defenders occupied showed an excellent level of game intelligence.
A note: Sale rotated their squad a lot less than in previous years, sticking with a fairly well-defined starting 7, so I am unable to give ratings or comments for some of the squad members.
1. Tom Curry – 6/10
Good day for the youngster, showing a rounded skillset in attack, and enough pace and physicality to cover the defensive line.
2. Ben Curry – 7/10
Similar to his brother, a good tournament, bagging a brace of tries. Also showed good hands for a forward, and both look easily big enough for this level of competition. The question now is how quickly and how successfully they can move up to the top level of XVs. Their rugby intelligence shows very clearly, neither are caught panicking on the ball.
3. Matt Rogerson – 8/10
Unsung hero for the day. A couple of defensive lapses where his lack of pace was exploited, but his bruising ball-carrying was crucial in generating momentum. Stunning offload in the Leicester game was my personal highlight of the day. Promisingly, he runs very smart attacking lines when coming onto the ball, an uncommon trait for a backrower of his experience.
4. Andy Hughes – n/a
Didn’t play, as far as I saw.
5. George Nott – n/a
Not enough game time to properly judge, but looked dependable enough when called upon.
6. James Mitchell – 7/10
Mitchell looks a very classy sevens player when given time and space, and although he wasn’t able to score at the same rate as last year (when he finished second in the scoring charts behind only Christian Wade), he had a very productive day in attack. However, he was shunted aside for one of Newcastle’s tries, and caught cold from the kick-off for Leicester’s, which put a bit of a cloud on an otherwise strong performance.
7. Curtis Langdon – n/a
Didn’t play, as far as I saw.
8. Sam Bedlow – 6/10
Fine. Lovely balance when running and able to change direction at pace, both of which are enviable traits for up-and-coming centres. A bit quieter than other players going forwards, although his distribution was secure, and no noticeable blemishes defensively.
9. Paolo Odogwu – 9/10
My MVP, and the weekend’s top scorer (so far) with an eight-try haul. Sale have stolen an absolute gem from Leicester. Faster feet than anyone else playing today, on any team, and a very composed presence out wide. Defensively excellent, looked sharp in the air, and a finisher’s touch out wide. Extremely slippery. Like a normal winger, but covered in Vaseline.
10. Nick Scott – 7/10
No pyrotechnics of the Nev Edwards sort from this year’s trialist, but he’s clearly better than this level of rugby, showcasing a very reliable offload and genuine pace, as well as a good rugby brain. Still young enough at 26, he will have done his chances of getting a full contract no harm today. Will be champing at the bit at the finals next weekend.
11. Tom Morton – 5/10
Not a great day for Sale’s third-choice 10, beaten badly one-on-one against Newcastle, and not able to show much in attack across the rest of the games. Dependable enough when distributing, his touchline conversion after Sale’s first try was his only real highlight.
12. Charlie Venables – n/a
Hardly played, but showed a lovely jinking step in the only real time he had on the ball. Confident player, expect him to be used more next weekend as the intensity is ramped up.
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