'The players mentioned exactly that': Why card trick left Sale flummoxed at Exeter
Alex Sanderson has acknowledged the irony of Sale failing to profit from a rare on-pitch numerical advantage last weekend at Exeter following a 2021 campaign where the opposite has usually been the case with the Sharks the team reduced in numbers.
The new director of rugby’s reign at Sale is only 16 Gallagher Premiership matches old but it has coincided with a card fest, the Sharks on the receiving end of 19 yellows and one red compared to an opposition tally of seven yellow and two reds.
Of the 16 games played, there have been ten where Sale have been the more numerically challenged team compared to the opposition yet they have still managed to win nine of those matches, resulting in Sanderson frequently praising their defensive shift when a man short.
However, last weekend at Sandy Park was a rare occasion where the cards penalised the opposition more, but Sale couldn’t transfer this numerical advantage into a win. Exeter lost Dave Ewers to a first yellow card and then Sam Skinner to an early second-half red, only for Sale to go on and relinquish the 19-3 lead that had them on the cusp of securing the bonus-point win that would have earned home-field advantage for this Saturday’s semi-final.
Instead, they lost 19-20, pressure added to by them losing Ben Curry to the sin bin making it a 14 versus 14 match for ten minutes. They must now go back to Sandy Park for this weekend’s semi-finals and the irony of how the round 22 loss unfolded – Sale unable to benefit from the extra man after months of defiance where they showed they could thrive when they were the team a man down – wasn’t lost on Sanderson.
Title-chasing Sale has been speaking colourfully about the form and the injury situation of their casualties from last Saturday's loss at Exeter, the team whom the Sharks face again this Saturday #EXEvSALhttps://t.co/Bw0vNwONdp
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 15, 2021
Asked by RugbyPass for his reflections on this anomaly, Sanderson said: “Yeah, wasn’t it just. The players mentioned exactly that. Did we think that this game was done and dusted, did we think we were taking it back to Manchester at that point in time or should we expect some kind of rallying from Exeter because that is what good teams do? We’d expect that from ourselves so why would we expect less from Exeter and seemingly we did at that point. They are the reflections that we have had, that we have spoken about in the week. It was exactly that.
“There was some talk about our ability to take opportunities in the opposition 22 and I guess that kind of highlighted where our heads were at, chasing a bonus point and not where they should have been at in stemming the flow of penalties, wrestling back the momentum of the game when it went Exeter’s way.
“Potentially in our 22 we were thinking about scoring in their 22 and it shows you what kind of a distraction or what a little distraction can do to 15 players being in the moment, being on it and understanding what their next role and their next job is. So the players’ talk was about opportunities and after the cold reflection there was a common understanding that it wasn’t so much the opportunities that we missed that would have won us the game, it was the momentum shift after the red card that lost it.
“We had a team meeting on it, as we do every Monday. It’s not a crisis meeting. Every Monday I come in and I get their thoughts and reflections on the game, I get a little bit of a hot debrief on the bus on the way home and then we get straight from them without clips, what do you think?
“Now we have had days to look at it, think about it, we will try and improve our team awareness, our on-field awareness. Did we realise that we were sliding at this point in time or did we just keep thinking all we need is another try?
“If you start thinking about the outcome, you start thinking about something that could happen and in the moment you’re not playing the game, you’re not on that phase, you take your eye off what needs to be done and that is a really, really big lesson.
“It is probably not going to happen this weekend but it’s a lesson for every moment of the game against the best team. If you slip and that shift happens and you let them in, it’s very difficult to wrestle the momentum back from a team as dominant and as efficient as Exeter.”
"I’m struggling with the whole process"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 16, 2021
Join RugbyPass+ now and be a part of the conversation with all-new commenting!