By Ed Owen
After witnessing his Sale Sharks side routed by a rampant Harlequins in the LV= Cup final at Sixways Stadium, director of rugby Steve Diamond admitted his priorities were always elsewhere.
Sale missed an opportunity to pick up their first silverware since 2006 courtesy of a commanding performance by the men from Twickenham Stoop, who raced to a 32-14 victory.
But Diamond declared that despite the result neither his nor his side’s spirits were dampened by the heavy reverse, choosing to see the fixture as part of a larger goal – Aviva Premiership survival.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry over the next four to five weeks but we came over here to give it our best shot and we’re pleased with the effort but our skill-set let us down,” he said.
“We don’t need to lift the players, the spirit is good in the place, they tried their best and we didn’t take too many injuries out there.
“This has always been a bit of fantasy for us, we played really well in the prelim round – we beat Saracens twice to get here and we’ve had a great day out, so there are a lot of good, positive things.
“But we need to nail our Premiership survival and that starts on Friday against Bath.”
Quins set the tone of the afternoon five minutes from kickoff with a Ben Botica penalty, before stalwart Tom Williams notched the game’s first try five minutes later.
With Botica failing to slot the resulting conversion, Sale put themselves back into touching distance with a penalty from star fly-half Danny Cipriani, taking the score to 8-3.
However, the London side reinforced their dominance on 27 minutes – taking the ball from a five-metre scrum their captain Tom Guest smashed through Tom Brady to cross the whitewash.
Botica proceeded to add the extras before Cipriani responded with another penalty – yet Quins restored their 12-point lead with another Botica penalty before half-time.
Sale were 6-18 down at half-time but gave themselves a glimmer of hope two minutes after the break with another penalty from former England international Cipriani.
Yet this merely riled the Quins as former Sale Jet Tom Casson raced through the Sharks line moments later to score a great try – Botica converted.
And things went from bad to worse for the Lancashire side on 54 minutes as flanker Luke Wallace effectively killed off their challenge with his side’s fourth try of the match.
With Botica adding the extras and taking the score to 9-32, Sale’s Johnny Leota finally gave his club’s travelling fans something to cheer for with a 58th minute try, which Cipriani failed to convert.
But rather than rue the missed opportunity, former chief executive Diamond was instead full of praise for his side’s conquerors.
“We got beaten by the better side,” he said. “We showed great spirit throughout but our skill-set and application let us down.”
“We’ve come up against a side who are on the up and they’re a very good unit – there are no complaints.
Sale restart their league campaign next Friday – sitting two points above bottom-placed London Welsh, they entertain Bath at the Salford City Stadium.
Image courtesy of Sale Sharks, via YouTube, with thanks