Six days later and I still do not think I am over the heartbreak that was Ian Keetley’s 82nd minute drop goal to steal victory from Sale’s grasp on their debut in the European Rugby Champions Cup for Munster, 27-26.
I hope that the Sale players are made of sterner stuff than I as on Sunday they travel to Clermont Auvergne’s Michelin Stadium to face last year’s Semi-Finalists in round two of Europe’s premier competition. Here are three things to look out for:
Can Steve Diamond rally the team after such a cruel result?
On radio and in the press this week Steve Diamond has made it abundantly clear he has not had to encourage the team in getting them up to task facing Clermont; the team is hungrier than ever after coming so close to a famous win over Irish powerhouses Munster. Whilst this is most likely the case, one wonders after such a brutal encounter versus Munster, do Sale have the capacity to produce another scintillating performance and go one better against one of the French powerhouses of Europe? It will undoubtedly be tough; backed by 25,000 passionate and noisy fans, Clermont are even more intimidating on the field, able to field a star-studded squad featuring the likes of Damien Chouley, Jonathan Davies and Wesley Fofana, many in the rugby community do not expect much from Sale on Sunday but then again who predicted last weekend’s game to be so close?
How will Danny Cipriani bounce back after Wednesday’s England disappointment?
In a surprising decision, England boss Stuart Lancaster opted not to select Danny Cipriani in the England squad for next month’s autumn internationals when the EPS squad was announced on Wednesday. Whilst many have criticised Lancaster for opting for Northampton Saints’ fly-half Stephen Myler over the aforementioned Sale fly-half, the door is not shut on Cipriani by any means. There are still seven or so players to be added to the wider training squad next week and Lancaster explicitly mentioned this weekend’s Sale-Clermont game as one he will be watching in a not-so-suitable reference to Cipriani. However a p*ssed off Cipriani with something to prove is often a precursor to some of his best individual performances and there will be a massive chip on his shoulder to prove Lancaster and co. wrong. Cipriani had a great game in all areas versus Munster although as the game wore on there were a few instances where Cipriani opted for the wrong decision at critical points in the game. However a replication of his Munster showing would certainly give Lancaster pause for thought if he made the wrong decision.
*I think Cipriani makes the wider training squad and is used as injury cover over the international period for what its worth. *
Dan Braid is back!
The influential Kiwi back-row has been a sorely missed presence in the Sale pack since going down with an ankle injury in the opening game of the season. Still not 100% fit however Diamond has opted, correctly, to start Braid on the bench and will likely give the Sale captain 15-20 minutes at the end of the game to aid his fitness, injuries to the team permitting. Here’s hoping Braid makes a triumphant return to the Sale team and has completely managed to shake off his troublesome injury for the more arguably more pivotal games on Sale’s calendar in the coming months.
Prediction: Clermont 32-20 Sale Sharks