Dugdale secures victory for Sale in their opening match of the Champions Cup against Stade Français.
Alex Sanderson urged his Sale team to prove that they were not the weakest team in their tough pool in the revamped Champions Cup. His players delivered a strong and convincing performance on a freezing day in Salford.
Is it flawless? Not exactly, and Sale might regret the chances they wasted in a tense first half which prevented them from earning a bonus point by just one try. In a group that features finalists from last year, La Rochelle and Leinster, as well as strong teams like Leicester and the Stormers, every point could potentially make a difference. However, the top team in the Premiership did more than sufficient to defeat Stade Français and show that they have a good chance of making it through to the next round.
The Parisian side, the wildcard of Pool D in the sense of never quite knowing what you will get from them, certainly did not live up to the billing here but this should be about what Sale did well, rather than what their opponents didn’t. Sanderson’s pack led from the front and laid the foundations for everything that followed, with three second‑half tries in 20 minutes proving to be more than enough to get their European campaign off to a good start.
While it may not have been a perfect five-point victory, earning four points is still a strong foundation to work with as we prepare for our challenging journey to Leinster next week. Sanderson expressed his satisfaction with his team’s determination, even when their repeated attempts to score in the first half only resulted in two penalties by George Ford.
“He stated that we came close to scoring in the first half, but small margins made the difference. However, our opponents remained focused and such situations can be demoralizing. We may have thought it wasn’t our day, but we were confident that we were playing in the right areas.” The team did not manage to score any tries in the first half, but as Sanderson emphasized, they maintained a strong performance from the start.
In the first 30 minutes of the game, the most promising opportunity occurred when Joe Carpenter attempted to score with a clever kick from Gus Warr. However, video replays revealed that the Sale full-back had fumbled while grounding the ball. Nevertheless, Ford scored the first points of the match with a penalty kick after advantage was given due to Carpenter’s missed attempt at scoring a try.
However, despite repeated attempts, Sale was unable to convert their pressure into tangible results. Manu Tuilagi’s return to the team after the World Cup was promising, with Sale’s director of rugby Alex Sanderson stating that the England player still has several more years in his career. If Tuilagi continues to perform at this level, he may very well stay with Sale beyond this season. He also played a crucial role in creating a few opportunities for the Sharks, but unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize on them. Stade Francais briefly showed signs of life as Sale’s chances went begging.
After a clever play from the lineout, Jeremy Ward made a break and scored, causing concern about how Sale’s wastefulness could impact the game. Ford then put them ahead again with another penalty right before half-time, but with a score of 6-5, the game was still up for grabs. However, the home team elevated their performance after the break and efficiently secured the win against Stade.
In the second half, a penalty awarded at the halfway mark gave the team an opportunity to attack. After 10 minutes, they successfully executed a planned play, resulting in Tom O’Flaherty scoring in the corner.
Raffi Quirke’s entrance at nine sparked a new energy in the Sale attack. His quick thinking on the short side set up Jonny Hill’s try in the corner, which was successfully converted by Tom Curtis, bringing the score to 21-5. The remaining question was whether the Sharks could score enough tries to secure a bonus-point victory.
With only five minutes remaining, there was a promising chance for their hopes to come true as Quirke assisted in allowing the exceptional Sam Dugdale to make a crucial pass for a goal. Stade prevented Sale from getting any more chances to earn an additional point, but Sanderson’s team could still reflect on a remarkable performance throughout the afternoon.
Next week’s game against Leinster will not be any easier, according to Sanderson, who stated after the match, “We cannot go there timidly and just defend because they will overpower us. We must go there and be aggressive.” The team will need to improve, but their performance was promising and it shows that they have a chance to qualify from this challenging group.