Sale restrained a resurgent second-half performance from Worcester to pick up their first victory of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Steve Diamond was relieved that his side picked up the four points, as at certain points in the second period it looked as if Sale would let slip their 18-0 halftime lead.
Frankly, Worcester’s inability to be clinical in opposition territory was a more salient factor in Sale’s victory than any Sharks defensive quality. The Warriors had 89 phases in their opponent’s 22, but scored only two tries – a dismal return.
It took 20 minutes for Sale’s attacking quality to come to the fore, and it was some inventive ball moment from the backs which allowed Josh Beaumont to score in the corner.
For all their attacking talent on paper, Worcester’s star quality will mean very little this season if they continue to fail to control possession and territory as they did in the first half today.
Duncan Weir, signed from Edinburgh over the summer, has struggled to adapt to Premiership life. He couldn’t gain any kind of command of the game, something which Worcester have lacked over the past years and hoped Weir could amend.
Though Sale’s second try came by virtue of an interception from Denny Solomona, in truth it was no more than they deserved. Steve Diamond’s side had dominated the game from the opening minute, and Sale’s 18-0 lead meant Worcester’s game plan would have to dramatically change.
Their game plan did change, but the result was still conclusively the same. In the final play of the first half, Worcester went through 38 phases inside the Sale 22, only to lose the ball and come away with nothing.
For a team who relied upon their attacking prowess to keep them in the top flight last season, Worcester made only 1.04 metres-per-carry in the first half – an extremely worrying statistic for Alan Solomons who must be searching for an alternative area in which his team will excel.
Although Worcester can blame this defeat on the absences of Ben Te’o and Francois Hougaard, Sale were also missing two of their key players. Chris Ashton is banned until October, while Club Player of the Year last season Faf de-Klerk will only return from international duty at the same time.
In de Klerk’s absence, Will Cliff proved himself to be a particularly adept replacement at scrum-half, who controlled the game effectively in the opening stanza.
But after the interval, Worcester looked a different team. Their attack was functioning well, and they were able to ride Sale’s attacking surges which became rarer and rarer as the half progressed.
Worcester’s revival was impressive. First Bryce Heem powered his way over the try-line to give his side a glimmer of hope, and then Chris Pennell scored in the corner to bring his side within six.
Had Andrew Kitchener not knocked the ball on as Worcester entered opposition territory once again in the dying stages, his Warriors side could have been celebrating an early victory away from home.
But as it happened, Alan Solomons’ men are now left to rue missed opportunities, with next week’s home game against Newcastle – the only other team to have lost both games – now of increasing importance.
There were numerous concerning facets of play for Steve Diamond, none more so than Sale’s struggles at the breakdown, especially given the quality of the Sharks’ back-rowers.
Nonetheless, with a team that will improve as its star players return from injury, international duty and suspension over the coming weeks, Sale will be thankful for an opening victory which they can build upon.