Sale FC 1st XV vs Chester 1st XV 30-28
Saturday April 7th 2018
This was a very close and hard fought match. In the end it could have gone either way and was in doubt until the final whistle. The Chester side put in a very good performance away against the league leaders, but could not quite bring off what would have been a memorable victory. However, it would be difficult to begrudge the Sale players their win for the way they managed to wrest back a degree of control in the second half and come back from a eight point deficit.
The visitors began well scoring after only 5 minutes, when Andrew Oakden made a clean break into the Sale 22 and was hauled down by the cover defence just short of the try line. The ball was rucked quickly left for Ross White to cross for the try which was converted by James Robins. Almost from the kick off Sale were awarded a breakdown penalty 40 metres out which was kicked by their fly half, Chris Johnson. Chris had an excellent afternoon from the tee, and his accuracy was critical to Sale’s ability to prevail in a tight contest.
Sale were also beginning to show a capacity to build pressure and retain the ball through their pack. Their No.8 Tom Ailes managed to spin out of a tackle in midfield to put his side on the front foot. The ball was moved through three quick rucks deep into the Chester 22, where the home forwards inched the ball forward through five pick and goes before crossing for a converted try after 15 minutes. Four minutes later it was Chester’s turn to demonstrate continuity and control in possession. Craig Ross, the right wing, ran a loose Sale clearance back into midfield where the referee, Mr. Chris Bennett, awarded Chester a penalty. This allowed the visitors to set up a 5 metre attacking lineout. From the resulting rolling maul Mike Craven crossed for the try, which was very well converted by James Robins almost from touch to put Chester four points in front. However, another penalty enabled Chris Johnson to pull his side back to within a point just before the half hour.
Chester were in control for the remainder of the half. A lineout on their left allowed scrum half Josh Morris to make a clean break through the Sale midfield with an arcing run to his right. It looked as though an early pass to Craig Ross would lead to a try, but Josh was tackled just short of the try line. However, Sale infringed at the ensuing ruck and the Chester pack mauled the ball over for a try from the ensuing lineout. The end of the half saw Chester hammering at the Sale line. They showed great patience and continuity but the home defence (especially their forwards) was excellent and, critically, just managed to hold them out. Another Chester try could have put them 15 points up, which would have given the home side a much bigger mountain to climb at half time.
Five minutes into the second half, Sale’s right wing Jack Moorhouse scored a very well worked converted try to bring his side within a point, making the match a one pointer. There it remained for about half an hour. Whilst the scoreboard didn’t move and play itself was compelling. Both sides managed multi-phased attacks, but their defences remained secure. Then, as the match reached its conclusion there was a final flurry of scoring. The Chester defence faced increasing difficulty in exiting from defence and, having not cleared from a scrum in their 22, James Robins had a kick charged down behind his goal line, which led to a converted Sale try. This was very unlucky for James, whose kicking from hand and tee had been excellent throughout. The impetus was now with Sale and, when Chris Johnson kicked them nine points in front from a breakdown penalty, it seemed as though Chester would depart with nothing for their efforts. However, Sale were penalised by Mr.Bennett, apparently for talking back. Chester then set up a scrum 20 metres from the home line on their left. The ball was moved quickly right and a long pass reached winger Craig Ross 25 metres out. He was in space as the Sale defence had drifted inwards. He crossed for a fine try, worth 2 bonus points, which James Robins again converted from touch.
From the restart Chester tried to run the ball back, but the home defence was sufficient to keep them in their own half until the final whistle. Sale were just about worth their win for showing the kind of grit that no doubt has taken them to the top of the table, but this was a very good Chester performance that might easily have ended differently – not least scoring 4 tries to Sale’s 3.