“I don’t think it’s endeavour, it’s just about people keying in and clueing in. Whether I have got it wrong being a bit naive about picking a lot of youngsters in the team, but we need to wisen up.
"Going from a team that has finished fifth and sixth over the last five years to looking that it could be in a relegation battle, we need to pull our finger out.”
Above are two direct quotations from Steve Diamond following Sale's 3-21 loss to Exeter Chiefs on Friday night, the Sharks' third consecutive in the Premiership.
Whilst it is moderately encouraging to see Dimes place blame squarely on his team, as opposed to the referre, a conspiracy against Northern rugby or the BT Sport cameras, along with a healthy dose of self-apprasial, "pull[ing] our finger out" is not a conducive strategy to winnng rugby games.
Indeed, Friday night's loss betrayed the firm limitations of the 2016/17 Sale Sharks squad. Up against a better-disciplined, organised, and harmonious side in Exeter Chiefs, Sale's mis-matched lineup was woefully unprepared to match a team who are genuine top-four contenders.
Most disappointing about the latest 80 minutes at the AJ Bell was how, in order to secure a comfortable victory, the Chiefs never had to even contemplate leaving second gear. Three first-half tries, including two pushover efforts from rolling mauls gave Exeter a healthy lead and Sale mustered precisely nothing in response bar an early AJ MacGinty penalty. And that was the game in its totality; for all their second-half possession Sale didn't threaten the opposition tryline once and Exeter were content to kill off the game in what was possibly the dullest forty minutes of rugby witnessed for a long time.
But the ease in which Exeter won must be addressed and blame must fall upon Diamond's team selection. Despite matching up against one of the heaviest and most physical groups of forwards in the league, Diamond opted for a lightweight mobile outfit which included Josh Beaumont at lock and a backrow consiting of Cameron Neild, Ben Curry and TJ Ioane, presumably designed to outpace and outcompete their opposition in the loose. Unsurprisingly, it was an abject failure as Exeter bullied the Sale scrum and drove over with embarassing ease from two 5 metre lineouts.
The real issue however is that Diamond compounded his earlier mistake with his selection in the backline. A lightweight pack for a Friday night game in winter was a dubious decision at best but opting to then start Mike Phillips at scrum-half and leave Paolo Odogwu sat on the bench for 77 minutes showed how Diamond's unorthodox appraoch to coaching is beginning to wear thin. If, as the starting lineup suggested, the strategy to beat Exeter was to ensure breakdown superiority and play incisive counter-attacking rugby, opting to start Phillips, whose distribution is markedly slower than Peter Stringer, and leave out Sale's quickest winger is a damning indictment of the attacking schematic being implemented by Dimes and Paul Deacon. Simply put, Sale do not have the personnel to play the style of rugby that they were expected to play on Friday night, which further mystifies the decision to slim down the pack.
Unfortuntaely the issues do not end there. Whether it is Sam James or AJ MacGinty at fly-half, Sale's backline continues to look devoid of both ideas and set plays, the jackals of the team are being nullified by heavier opposition forwards, there is a distinct lack of pacy ball-carrying options in the forwards who can either make or support line breaks, the rolling maul is still yet to find its 2014-15 form and Sale have regressed to aimlessley kicking away possession for long tracts of time in a sheepish attempt to play 'territory'.
Many of these impediments are rectifiable and should eventually be amended as the season progresses but this is a statement that has been repeated with alarming regularity for the last month. Furthermore, increasing scrutiny needs to be placed on Sale's recruitment policy. Once again there are a small number of glaring issues in the Sharks team (a lack of weight in the second row, lack of a combination of pace and strength in the backrow, lack of attacking threat around the fringes at scrum-half) that the additions made over the summer should have fixed (Lou Reed, Laurence Pearce, Mike Phillips(?)) but who instead are found outside of the matchday twenty-three with regularity. And as intriguing as a signing Denny Solomona is, another converted rugby league winger is not the area Sale need to address most urgently at the moment.
Speaking of converted rugby league wingers, the sole positive from Friday was that Josh Charnley, on his full home Premiership debut, looked both exciting and industrious when afforded his limited ball-playing opportunities. We are still yet to see what Charnley can offer in broken-field open play but from the small glimpses on show against Exeter he is adapting to the fifteen-man code with exciting speed.
Next up is the small matter of a home-and-home with the regining European and Premiership champions who have conventinely regained their gluttony of international stars, in a competition which is losing importance with every Premiership loss. Unfortunately, with the manner in which Sale are currently playing, one would expect the Sharks' losing run to stretch to six games in six weeks by the time Premiership action resume against Northampton in just under three weeks' time.
Honourable Mentions: Ross Harrison, Rob Webber.
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