Do or die for Sale Sharks
December 20, 2012
Sale have not had much to celebrate this year © Getty Images
We are back on Aviva Premiership duty this weekend after the European break and we will be taking in Sale's match with Wasps on Sunday. It is an absolutely massive game for the Sharks, they just have to win.
Sale are currently six points adrift at the foot of the table and the longer that gap remains, the more pressure builds on the squad and on the coaches. If Sale gets relegated at the end of the season, bearing in mind the size of the club and the amount of good backers they have, it could quite conceivably be the end of the club and that would be an absolute travesty.
They will head into this match on the back of a huge defeat to Toulon at the weekend and the best thing they can do is use the fallout from that match to their advantage. They were already out of Europe before they got there so you can argue that it wasn't the normal intensity you expect from a north-west side but they should still be embarrassed by the result and rightly so. Hopefully, from a Sale point of view, the loss should bring out some fight in them and they will need to harness that against what is a very competitive Wasps pack.
What Sale need to do, and they haven't done in previous games, is to build a score. They are also making too many silly errors which are player driven and not coach driven. They need to cut those out but you cannot under-estimate just how important it is to build a score - get to a nine points and then develop and push on.
To achieve this, they also need to show a little bit more inventiveness behind the scrum which we saw from them last year. Integral to this is the fly-half. If I was picking the team, I would go for Nick Macleod. I think he's a better all-round kicking ten than Cipriani and that's where they need to start from. They need to establish a base of good clearance kicking, territory and clever play from their fly-half. Cipriani could be used, potentially, from the bench.
But as they try and avoid relegation, they do not need to go out with the chequebook, they haven't got time to recruit, they just need to start winning. They have got good coaches at the club but they are very forward-orientated. They have Bryan Redpath there who is probably looking after the backs but alongside him you have Anglesea, Diamond and Mitchell who are all pack-focused.
But I don't think you can emphasise just how big this game is at the weekend. If London Irish beat Leicester at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday - and they have a good record there against the Tigers - and Sale do not win, then Sale are really up against it.
And their opponents on Sunday Wasps know exactly what it feels like to be in Sale's situation after the season they endured last term. It's a lesson in sport. They were potentially down and out when they played Bath in the penultimate game of the season. If it hadn't have been for Tom Varndell and his effort at catching Sam Vesty, in the process securing Wasps their losing bonus point, and then a week later had Newcastle had a little bit more time to attack in that final game, they could have gone down and that could have been Wasps out of business.
But in 2012-13, they are a great side to watch. You go down to Adams Park and you see Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade, Varndell and Elliot Daly all in action - it is so exciting to see them play with ball in hand.
We are now heading into Round 11 and with that comes the halfway mark in the season and I think it has been the best one yet. We've had some weeks where the games have been sensational, some weeks where the games have been slightly attritional but the league is so competitive this year. You look at the difference between first and eighth place and any of them can go on and win this title.
At the other end of the table, Wasps are now comfortably out of the relegation mire for this season but Sale are still fully immersed in the dogfight. I think Worcester should be safe now but London Welsh cannot rest on their laurels. But it is Sale who will go into the second half of the season at the foot of the table. They only have six home games left so they need to start racking up those wins with some intensity.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
"Wayne Barnes' decision to give Dylan Hartley his marching orders was brave but crucially it was the correct call." Graham Jenkins reports from the Premiership final
"We wanted to get the rugby spirit across to people, I firmly believe we have been in the thick of it." Tom Hamilton speaks to the ESPN crew on the final live broadcast
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
"The fans could not be happier with the opposition and it adds an exciting element to a game that is shaping up as a thriller." Ben Kay previews the Premiership final showdown