During the professional era, Sale Rugby Union Football Club were at their peak during the mid-2000s. During the 2005-6 season, they finished top of the English Premiership by a margin of five points. Well funded, they ranked as one of the richest clubs in England, thanks to the support of Brian Kennedy. But when the money dried up, the club’s turnover fell from £9.3m in 2005-6 to £7.9m in 2009 (ironically, the same at that registered by the Cardiff Blues in that season), and the club were almost relegated from the top tier. Since then, they’ve been a solid mid-table performer, sometimes reaching the Champions Cup, but never really making an impression. Last season, Sale registered 20 defeats – only one less than their all time poorest season. Cardiff’s record was little better, with an increase of 3 defeats on the previous season and on 18 occasions the club registered a loss.
This season, Sale have yet to record a victory in the Champions Cup, with a draw against Toulouse at home and an away defeat in Lyon. Cardiff – meanwhile – stand at the top of Pool 2 with a home victory over Lyon and an away victory in Toulouse.
Cardiff have faced Sale away from home on a total of seven occasions in the modern era; two friendlies, twice in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and three times in the Heineken Cup. Only once – in 2008 – did the register the narrowest of victories.
Sale’s current director of rugby is Steve Diamond, an ex-player at the club with experience coaching at Saracens and the man who led the Russian national team to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. His current stint at the club began in October 2012 and he’s now been in charge for 165 fixtures – only Jim Mallinder, Rob Baxter, Mark McCall and Dai Young have been around for longer at the top of the English game. Diamond’s coaching has seen a focus on home victories, with a respectable 63% win ratio. Away from home is another story and Sale are one of the worst travellers in the Aviva Premiership. Danny Wilson’s results from his 76 games in charge show a close similarity to Diamond’s. His team also struggles away from home with only a 33% win ratio.
Saturday’s game will be refereed by Pierre Brousset, a relative newcomer to the ranks of professional referees. Still only 28 years old, he began his career in the Top 14 in France last season. He is the youngest referee currently active in the Top 14. In 84% of the games he’s refereed, the home team has been victorious. This compares with the competition average of 74%. He has yet to referee either Sale or Cardiff. This season, Brousset is less likely to award penalties (averaging 17 per game) than he was last season (when he averaged 23.2 penalties per game), and as for awarding yellow or red cards, last season he averaged 2.3 per game, whereas this season, it’s 1.8 per game.
Sale have scored 32 tries in the Premiership so far this season which makes the team one of the more formidable in attack in that competition. Cardiff have scored 10 fewer and a porous defence means the Welsh team is somewhat off the pace in Conference A of the Pro14. Sales’ success is built on a strong carrying game, with an emphasis on running hard with ball in hand over kicking and passing. Only Exeter and Saracens have run more meters this season. However, the teams offloading game is not the strongest, nor is their ability to make clean breaks. Meanwhile, Cardiff’s offloading game is equally unimpressive. No team has made more clean breaks than Cardiff in the Pro14 this season, and perhaps one can point at an unsettled back row as a reason why the team has failed to capitalise on this facet of their game. Although Cardiff’s tactical approach to kicking remains virtually the same whether playing home or away (averaging 20 kicks per game), Sale’s data shows a some differences. Looking at data over the last two seasons, we can expect Sale to kick between 26 and 28 times during a home game.
Sale’s scrum is one of the strongest in the league, and only in the games against Worcester, Newcastle and Northampton did they fail to record a 100% success rate. However, their lineout is one of the weakest (with a success rate of only 82%) and both Newcastle and Exeter’s victories at the AJ Bell stadium this season were built on attacking the home team’s lineout. Sale have pinched 21 lineouts this season, with Cardiff managing 19. Cardiff’s lineout success is one of the highest in the Pro14, with a scrum success rate firmly mid-table.
Both team’s tackle stats for this season show a remarkable similarity, with Cardiff averaging 118 tackles attempted per game – exactly the same as Sale‘s. Completion ratios are equally similar. Turnovers remain a vital part of the game and provide a launch pad from which teams can counter attack against disorganised defensive patterns. Cardiff’s form in this facet of the game last season was unaffected by whether they played at home or away from home – conceding on average 14 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Sale’s record showed a difference between home and away.
Last season in the Aviva Premiership, Sale received more cards than any other team at home – a trend that has continued into this season. Last season in the Pro12, only Zebre were carded more often than Cardiff, though this season has seen a slight improvement.
Sale are one of the most penalised teams in the Aviva this season – averaging 10.2 penalties per game. Last season, discipline was also a problem and they topped the table with 10.5 penalties per game. Cardiff’s discipline was of a higher standard in 2016-7, conceding only 8.6 penalties per game, though this season the data reads an ugly 10.7 penalties per game on average.
In the Pro14 this season, Cardiff are a mid-table team who are carded every 18 penalties they concede. Last season, they were more likely to be carded, conceding a card every 12 penalties. This figures are close to those recorded by Sale, who – during the 2016-17 – received yellow cards at a rate faster than any other team. The situation is no better this season, where their rate of conceding a card is the highest in the league again (discounting Saracens, who have yet to concede a yellow or red card in the Aviva Premiership this season).
This fixture promises to be a tough one for the Cardiff Blues. The outstanding away win in Toulouse aside, results away from home this season has been poor. With Pierre Brousset in charge, there will be plenty of penalties and cards and Sale remain a force at home. The home team’s set piece is strong and they will kick the penalties that the ref awards. Expect pressure from driving lineouts, and Cardiff’s defence is a real weakness in this facet of play. The home team will win this game with relative ease, 33-19.