Monday, 15 October 2012

Heineken Cup thriller - Sale Sharks v Cardiff Blues 34:33

I had a fantastic day at Salford City Stadium. It was my second time watching Sale Sharks play against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup, and just like last time, the excitement was immense!

I decided to set off for the stadium early to fully appreaciate the match day experience. I had plenty of time to visit the Sale Sharks store and browse through the new range of kits, include home, away and European. I also visited the fan bar and tried a pint of Devil's Advocate guest ale. A pint I definitely recommend to others!

The match started at 12.45pm and the Welsh visitors were first to put points on the board, with Leigh Halfpenny's successful penalty kick after only 2 minutes. Nick MacLeod managed to level-up 10 minutes later and although Sale seemed to have possession and played within Cardiff territory, they couldn't convert to points. Shortly after, unforced errors in defense allowed the Blues to score two soft tries and after 20 minutes, we were losing 3-17.

At this stage, the situation was not looking good. It seemed to knock the team's confidence and they started to play a bit weaker. Cardiff took their chances and managed to score another try before the half-time. We could only reply with two penalties from Nick MacLeod. So at the end of the first half, Cardiff Blues were leading 12-24.

The second half was a completely different story! Although Cardiff extended their lead to 12-27, it was Sale Sharks who dominated the game. Danny Cipriani and Cillian Willis were introduced in the 49th minute of the game, and I think it was the players from the bench that had a massive impact and raised the spirits of the entire team.

Six minutes later Cipriani scored a beautiful try. At this point fans became even more vocal than before! We tried harder and louder to become the extra player and help our team out. Passionate supporters, in the East stand especially, were almost constantly chanting until the last whistle!

In the meantime, Leigh Halfpenny managed to score another penalty, but the new substitutes, Johnny Leota and James Gaskell, increased Sharks' strength even more and their dominance became more visible.

In the 63rd minute, after a quick tap penalty, Cipriani and Leota created space for Mark Jennings, who placed the ball behind the opponent's try line. Rob Miller added 2 points with a successful conversion, leaving the home team with only a 6-point deficit.

The pressure was on! The atmosphere around the stadium was fantastic as we all believed in our boys in the sky-blue kit.

In the 73rd minute, Blues' Lewis Jones was sin-binned. Our pack then put massive pressure on the visitor's scrum, which led to Tony Buckley scoring the 3rd try! Rob Miller converted and for the first time in the game we were in front with 31 to 30 and only 5 minutes left on the clock!

Shortly after Rob Miller kicked another penalty, Leigh Halfpenny replied, taking the score to 34-33. Although the clock went to 80 minutes, the brave Sharks had to survive another few minutes, whilst Cardiff kept the ball alive and tried their best to take the lead for one final time. These few moments felt like a lifetime, and cost me my voice due to constant screaming! It was worth it though. Sale Sharks won their Heinken Cip opener 34-33.

The match, especially the second half was absolutely fantastic! It was a real Heineken Cup thriller with a much needed, happy ending.

Thank you Sale Sharks for your passionate performance!