On a very soggy and sticky pitch at the Sale Sharks training ground in Carrington we arrived to find the Sale u12s team being put through their paces. A tough encounter for the Rochdale boys. The ref blew to start the 4 x 10 minute games.
The early possession was held by the away side. As Rochdale camped in the Sale 22 metre area, battering the Sale defensive wall for the opening minutes there was early optimism amongst the coaches and parents, but then a mistake and the Sale full back pounced with a length of the field run that brought the first score. 1-0.
Sale quickly made it 2-0. They powered their way up through the centre of the pitch, their big lads smashing their way through. Rochdale fell off the tackles and allowed Sale to pave their way to the Rochdale try line for a second score.
At the restart Alfie collected, and made a powerful direct run in to the Sale half, spurring on another good spell for Rochdale. With some excellent anticipation and support play the ball quickly moved though the Rochdale team and found Jonty the space needed to go over the line and pull the score back to 2-1 at the end of the first quarter. Encouraging signs and excellent ball handling from Rochdale in the tricky conditions, applauded by the Sale referee.
Sale came back again at Rochdale at the start of the second quarter, this time strong tackling led by the Rochdale captain Max R who was leading by example and supported by Alfie in midfield found Sale wanting and stopped Sale in their tracks.
Jonty was popping up everywhere, mopping up any loose ball at the breakdowns and allowing Rochdale to regain possession. George and Alfie with pacy, mazy, determined running whenever the opposition gave them a sniff. Under much vocal encouragement from Duncan and Darren on the sidelines Rochdale again punched their way back into the Sale half, with strong direct running notably from Max E, Alex, Kian and Damien.
Rochdale were unlucky to come away without a try. Adam creating the space with a beautiful side step helping Casey to waltz his way through the Sale backline only to be caught and held off inches from the try line. A knock-on gave the scrum to the home side and allowed them to clear their line. Some great defending on the flanks by Oliver & Ben prevented Sale advancing. Rochdale holding out to Half Time only 2-1 down. An excellent effort by a resilient and combative Rochdale team.
The second half continued in the same vein. A gritty and determined effort from the away side but Sale always looking threatening when in possession. At the restart Sale were quicker to the ball. Rochdale were caught napping, the Sale full back collected and the flying machine ran the full length of the pitch again direct from the kick off taking the Sale advantage to 3-1.
Rochdale quickly organised themselves, and with some tight driving play and impressive individual gallops from Alex, Bailey and Kian, Rochdale found themselves back in the Sale half. Rochdale were looking good for a second try, only for another spill which stopped the Rochdale progress and handed possession back to Sale. Oohs and ahhs heard from the parents and coaches! So unlucky!!
Rochdale were dominating possession but when Sale regained the ball they looked purposeful and clinical. Rochdale competed well in the third quarter, leaving the game all to play for in the last 10 minutes.
Jonty, Max R, Adam and Alfie were having a significant game in the backs, taking the big tackles and cleverly preventing the big Sale lads having an impact with Casey’s pace opening up the gaps. There was a certain try for Rochdale when the boys had yet again driven the ball again up to the Sale line, only for another dropped ball on the Sale line to stop the Rochdale progress. Sale regained procession and quickly created a fourth try. 4-1 Sale.
Sale were pinned back on their line from the restart. Rochdale pressure created a penalty and a chance for Max E to drive the ball forward to the line and with a clever offload released Adam to make a flying dive over for a well deserved try. 4-2. Game on!
Rochdale had played their hearts out. Huffing and puffing, we were starting to fade in the dying minutes of the game, and were very unfortunate to gift Sale a couple of late tries to take it to 6-2 at the whistle. The score line certainly did not represent a very close fought out game. Credit to the Sale referee who constantly advised, encouraged the Rochdale lads, overlooked minor infringements to allow a free flowing game of rugby, and made for an adsorbing contest.
So many players stepped up, this was a thoroughly impressive performance, a lot closer than anticipated. Another great team effort led by noticeable performances from Jonty who was given MoM with Alfie, Max R and Ben also to the fore. Special mention to the Rochdale pack who took the game to the much bigger Sale pack and held their own at the breakdowns. Huge effort.