The Premiership has thrown up a few really close games this season, and then it has had its fair share of one-sided matches. This, sadly, was one of the latter kind. Both sides started poorly, and it took a while for the match to really come to life, but when it did, Sale were the team with everything going their way, and London Irish were unable to make things happen. This tactical analysis will show how both teams started poorly, and how Sale took their chances in the second half. It will also see how London Irish gave the Sharks the chances to score.
Sale Sharks London Irish
15. S. Hammersley 15. T. Parton
14. D. Solomona 14. B. Loader
13. S. James 13. C. Rona
12. L. James 12. T. Hepetema
11. M. Yarde 11. O. Hassell-Collins
10. R du Preez 10. S. Myler
9. W. Cliff 9. B. Meehan
- C. Oosthuizen 1. H. Elrington
- R. Webber 2. M. Matu’u
- J. Cooper-Woolley 3. O. Hoskins
- B. Evans 4. F. van der Merwe (c)
- J-L. du Preez 5. S. Mafi
- J. Ross (c) 6. S. O’Brien
- B. Curry 7. B. Donnell
- D. du Preez 8. A. Tuisue
Before we turn our attention to London Irish, let’s look at Sale’s game in both halves.
Sale Sharks’ first half
Firstly, we will briefly mention the first half, which didn’t have many talking points. However, this image shows us how much things weren’t going for them.
Here, we see how Sale are looking to feed the ball out to the wing, where Marland Yarde is. We see how full-back Simon Hammersley has played a pass towards former Harlequins winger Yarde. However, the pass has been overdone, and gone out of play. This gave London Irish the ball in a very cheap fashion, which is especially poor, given that you can see how Yarde would have been able to use his pace to get behind the Irish defence, if he had got a hold of the ball.
This was not the only thing that went wrong, but it did sum up Sale’s first half.
There was one exception to this, which was Sale’s second try. The first was scored by centre Sam James, who had an excellent game throughout, and it came from an interception on a London Irish pass only a few minutes into the game. The second began when South African fly-half Rob du Preez saw an opportunity to get behind the Irish defensive line, as you can see here.
du Preez saw that he had two teammates outside him, one being the Sharks’ other centre, Luke James (Sam’s brother). However, as we can see in this image, he played a dummy pass towards the wing, instead running through the gap marked by the blue line in front of him. The dummy also took the defender nearest the wing towards the other two Sale players, as the green arrow shows, and that increased the gap between the Irish players, making it easier for du Preez to run through them.
Here, we see how du Preez made his way through to the space behind the London Irish line again, and Luke James also continued his run through. Now that there was open space ahead, the South African fly-half offloaded the ball into James, and the centre ran through to score the try. This move involved some good work from Bryn Evans and Ben Curry (twin brother of England star and Sharks teammate Tom), following the ball being given away by London Irish scrum-half Ben Meehan. This is something we will come back to later on in this analysis.
Sale Sharks’ second half
In the second half, Sale Sharks improved their accuracy with the ball, and also had an interesting tactic at the lineout.
Here, we see how Marland Yarde has been found with a grubber pass by Rob du Preez. London Irish have come inside, looking to defend en masse against the central threat that Sale possess. However, in doing so, they left the space open for the Sharks to exploit this, by getting the ball out to Yarde as much as possible with these kinds of passes. It is worth pointing out that London Irish were down to 14 players at this point, with prop Harry Elrington in the sin bin, but Sale made sure they took full advantage of this.
In this particular example, the pass didn’t lead to anything, as it was overkicked, but the intent was there, and the fact that they were looking to make these passes shows that they had obviously spoken about being on the front foot more in the second half during their half-time talk.
In this image, we see the direct aftermath of a Sharks’ lineout.
They seemed to have two tactics that they were using in the lineouts.
The first tactic saw hooker Rob Webber throw the ball over the lineout, where it was received by the player on the outside of the lineout. This was used a few times, but didn’t result in too much.
The second tactic is what we see here. Webber has thrown the ball into the lineout, before running in to join the resulting maul from the back, helping to push it towards the try line. However, the interesting thing about this was that Webber was always fed the ball from the maul, but then held onto it. As this happened more than once, we can only assume that the plan they had worked on in training was to form a maul and then get the ball to Webber, where his extra muscle would help to get the ball over the line.
One time this happened, the ball ended up on the ground, with the Sale hooker claiming he had got it over the line, however it was ruled out as there was no obvious grounding seen by either the referee, linesman or television match official. This time, however, it did result in a try for Webber, showing that the tactic did work. You can see how substitute lock, South African Lood de Jager, has received the ball, and is looking to feed it to the outside of the maul as quickly as he can, ready for Webber to take possession of.
London Irish’s mistakes
Whilst Sale did dominate the second half, this was more down to the mistakes made by London Irish throughout the game, which the Sharks were able to take advantage of. This is what we will now turn our attention to.
Here, in the first half, we see how the ball has gone loose from a London Irish pass. Sale’s Sam James and Marland Yarde are both racing towards it, and this set the tone for the rest of the match as far as the Exiles were concerned. They constantly made handling errors, and this was the main reason why they ended up without a single point on the board at the end of the match.
In the second half, it was hoped that London Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney and head coach Les Kiss would have addressed these issues, but if anything, they seemed to get worse. In this example, we see how London Irish’s centre, New Zealander Terrence Hepetema, has moved into a good attacking area, with Irish looking to attack into Sale’s half of the pitch. However, he then throws the ball straight to Sharks winger Denny Solomona here, who instantly runs directly at the Exiles’ try line. A last minute tackle by Exiles winger Ollie Hassell-Collins stops him getting the ball over the line, but this was a big warning sign for the away side.
However, they kept making handling errors that put them in dangerous situations.
Here, London Irish’s other centre Curtis Rona has looked to pass the ball to his teammate, but has given it straight to a Sale Sharks player instead.
The recurring theme here is that London Irish kept giving the ball away when in attacking areas, meaning that they were never able to keep any ground they had gained, because every time Sale got the ball back, they immediately forced them right back towards their try line.
This time, the ball has gone loose again, but when it is picked up by Denny Solomona (in the blue square), he immediately offloads it to Sam James, who runs through the open gap and scores his second try of the game.
What we can see here is that London Irish’s handling errors continually cost them ground and, eventually, points. The fact that they never got any points on the board, not even from a penalty, is not down to them not getting awarded penalties. Instead, it was because they never really got into Sale’s half, except for by a few metres before the Sharks regained the ball from them. When they did get penalties, they couldn’t kick them at the posts, because they were too far away.
The final things to mention about London Irish’s play are their defending and their nervousness when passing the ball.
Firstly, we see below how their first half defending gave Sale Sharks the space and opportunities to score goals.
Here, we see how London Irish have drifted over towards the centre of the pitch, but have left the wing empty. The yellow line on the pitch shows how much space they have left open. Sam James sees this space, and makes the pass over towards Denny Solomona, which is marked by the red arrow. A penalty eventually comes from this move, but the important thing is that London Irish left this space open. It is this that possibly led to Sale playing more passes and grubber kicks out to the wings in the second half, as we saw above.
The final example shows London Irish’s reluctance to pass sideways. Instead, Exiles scrum-half Ben Meehan has played the ball backwards, as the arrow shows, meaning the Exiles have lost the ground that the ball had gained. This seemed to be through hesitance from him, and showed how nervous London Irish appeared to be when in possession.
We see how Sale Sharks are lined up, and are ready to charge forwards now that the ball has gone backwards. Therefore this is another way that London Irish lost the ground that they had gained, with the Sharks applying the pressure on them, and ensuring that London Irish left the AJ Bell Stadium with no game or league points.
In conclusion, we have seen in this article how both sides started the match badly, before Sale upped their game in the closing stages of the first half and throughout the second half. London Irish on the other hand struggled throughout, meaning that they couldn’t get a hold on the game at all. Their handling errors and defensive weaknesses, which we have analysed in detail, were the main reason that they didn’t trouble Sale in this game, and there are things they will need to improve on in their next match.