Steve Diamond's decision to rest and rotate key Sale first team members during Sunday's visit to Wasps proved to be an abject failure as Sale's utter lack of playing squad depth was exposed to the degree of five tries and 41 points conceded in a listless and dire performance against a merciless and rampant Wasps.
Unequivocally one of the low points of the season, Sale were ripped apart by a Christian Wade and Joe Simpson-inspired Wasps team who seized momentum from the first kick-off and seemingly scored with every foray into Sale's half during the first 40 minutes. The Sharks were simply unable to cope with the quick pace and dazzling handling ability of the Wasps' backs and the sheer force of the Wasps pack. Without Dan Braid and Sam Tuitupou because of injury and illness respectively and Danny Cipriani on the bench, Sale's usually prudent defence was ripped apart especially by the aforementioned Wade who turned in a MOTM performance to further stake his claim for a place in England's Six Nations squad. Mark Jennings and Joe Ford both struggled mightily to contain Wasps' runners in the 10-12 channel and twice Jennings overcommitted from the defensive line allowing Wade to run into space and set up a Wasps' score.
The game was well and truly out of reach before half-time when Joe Simpson waltzed in unopposed after Mike Haley was held up and the ball turned over to push the score to 27-9 leaving many amongst the travelling Sale faithful to wonder how different the game could have turned out had Sale utilised some of their best and most effective players from the very beginning. This was only further reinforced when Wasps crossed again twice in the second half to secure a bonus point victory and bring their total up to 41 points on the day with Sale only able to muster a 76th minute try in response.
Indeed this was a huge coaching failure on the part of Steve Diamond. The decision to rotate the team was clearly made with one eye on the Northampton Saints fixture at home next weekend but considering the relative strength and form of the currently league-leading Northampton compared to that of Wasps who came into today's game neck-and-neck on points with Sale, surely it would have been wiser for Diamond to focus on Wasps and try and secure a crucial away win against a team set to go head-to-head with Sale for the European qualification places instead of a brutally difficult home tie against one of England and Europe's leading sides in Northampton next week. What makes the rotating squad even more perplexing is that Sale have two dead rubber games in the ECC in a fortnight's time which would have served as a fantastic opportunity to rest players and give other members of the squad some gametime and development.
What is most concerning however is the massive drop-off in terms of ability between Sale's first choice XV and the reserve squad players that today's battering at the hands of Wasps' highlighted. Sale are beginning to really struggle now that injuries and general fatigue are taking effect on squad availability as the season progresses. When fully fit, Sale have a starting XV that can go toe-to-toe with any team in the Premiership and many in Europe, however beyond that Sale's depth lacks the quality and ability that true contenders have - Wasps, Bath, Saracens etc. Players like Mark Easter, Will Cliff and Joe Ford are perfectly good premiership-standard players, but they are not of the quality that makes up a true top-six club's squad. Comparing the members of Sale's wider squad to that of Leicester, Harlequins or even Wasps is laughable and shows how precarious a situation Sale are in if they lose even a handful of their top-class players (Braid, Paterson Cipriani et al). As desirable as it is to be able to rotate the squad and still pick up results the way the teams at the top of the rugby pyramid do, Sale are frankly in no position to do so and today's result only proves that explicitly. Let me be clear, this isn't a game Sale lost because they played particularly poorly, Sale lost today because the quality of Wasps's players lead them to be so much more proficient in all areas of the game, trenchant with ball in hand and well-drilled defensively that they simply blew away a much less talented Sale team.
Ending on a slightly more optimistic note; a bright spot for Sale this afternoon was Josh Beaumont who impressed mightily in his 35 minutes off the bench not least in the lineout that immediately became more disruptive, challenging and adept with his introduction. Shalva Mamukashvili also caught the eye as a disruptive force at the breakdown, exerting a lot of pressure on Wasps' ruck and their acting scrum-halves throughout the game.
Should Sale storm to victory over Northampton Saints next Saturday with a number of key individuals coincidentally excelling due to their rest this week, it will go a long way to soften the blow of a bitterly disappointing afternoon in Coventry. But for now, Sale are left licking their wounds after a humiliating defeat for the team and especially for their coach.