Visitors Viewpoint - Sharks show their Championship teeth
13 February 2003 01:20am
The Sharks continue their impressive climb up the Zurich Premiership ladder with a second successive victory on the road, which denied NEC Harlequins their seventh successive home win in the league and keeps them looking anxiously looking over their shoulders.
"It was a pretty impressive win," agreed Sharks coach Jim Mallinder.
"Delighted to back up our good win at London Irish last week (2nd February 2003), and to back that up with a performance like that today was very pleasing," continued the former Sale full back.
"I think we put them under quite a lot of pressure. In defence we were rushing up and they made so many turnovers in the first and second half. So you could say that we were good and they were fairly poor."
Yet it was only just under two season's ago that a 36-10 defeat at the Stoop, Sale's seventh defeat in eight matches, ensured that the visitors ended that campaign in tenth place - still five points ahead of Quins, who nonetheless reached the Tetley's Biter Cup Final and went on to lift the European Shield.
However, since then Sale have been challenging for honours whilst Quins are still searching for their true identity.
"I think it shows to the rest of the Premiership that we are improving," continued Mallinder.
"We've got an impressive home record and we have been struggling away from home, but wins at London Irish and now Quins show that we can play away. But we'll keep playing and putting pressure on, and we'll see what happens come the end of the season."
You sense that teams do not take the Sharks title challenge seriously enough - expecting them to perhaps slide down the table at a moments notice, despite an impressive last 18 months or so that have seen them back up last season's second place with yet another sustained chase on the league leaders.
"Team's have probably waited for us to fold, and you do read with interest when coaches talk about Sale's poor away record, and that does help to motivate you."
"As does things like arriving here and seeing the pitch four metres narrower. As a forward pack that is just a massive incentive. It only sends out one signal, which is the way they want to beat us is through the forwards. Kicking penalties, kicking touchlines and driving mauls. I did not need a team talk for the forwards if that's what the opposition thought they were going to do to you."
"There's nothing too complicated about how we play. We do put a lot of emphasis on defence. Last season we had a poor defensive record, even though we scored a lot of tries and ultimately finished second, we really worked on that this season."
"And I think, although I may be wrong, that it is only one try that we have conceded now in the last five games."
"Our defence is now a major part of our game, and we have also got players who can create and score from all over the field."
And with their injuries all but cleared up, the only thing the Sharks can be building up for is a good finish.
"We've got a full squad apart from two long-term injuries in Scott Lines and Anthony Elliott," continued Mallinder.
"But apart from that we are at full strength and have the players playing well, such as Charlie (Hodgson), Jason Robinson and Bryan Redpath, which is a massive boost."
"Over the season, we struggled when we lost our key half backs particularly, but we managed to get through that."
"I thought that Charlie (Hodgson) controlled the game magnificently, particularly in that first half. His option taking was great and again good option taking, good kicking in defence, just clearing our lines when appropriate - a good solid game from him."
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.