In his first column of the season, Sale Sharks’ Simon Hammersley discusses the World Cup and England’s hopes against Argentina + talks about his dream start at the AJ Bell.
World Cup thoughts
It has been a competitive start. I have actually been impressed by some of the ‘weaker’ nations. There haven’t been loads of huge scores which is quite a good sign to show it is getting more competitive throughout the different tiers. You obviously had Japan beating Ireland which is a huge result and hopefully it makes the tournament even better. With the home team doing well, it is a nice thing for the fans and it tends to make the tournament a bit stronger.
Teams that are doing well? I suppose New Zealand beating South Africa stands them in good stead. I think England, although they haven’t been too challenged, have looked pretty clinical. France look good as well! You just don’t know what kind of team you are going to get with them. They had a good first half against Argentina and nearly lost it, they struggled against USA but got the bonus-point win so they could be one to surprise someone!
Japan were immense against Ireland
We were actually down in London because we were playing Saracens that afternoon so most of the boys were watching Japan/Ireland beforehand. It was probably more impressive that Ireland were in the lead and Japan were able to slowly get themselves back into the game.
It wasn’t sort of a few early tries and they clung on. It was actually a very strong second-half display. The pressure and physically strain they put on Ireland was great. Ireland really pride themselves on that and Japan sort of matched that, but also had the ability to chip away at penalties and score that late try to give them the win.
Brave Blossoms and Wales stand out
I have been very impressed with Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima and Timothy Lafaele in the first couple of games. Lafaele has a very good offloading game.
I’d also say Wales’ back three have been very strong. Josh Adams, George North and then Liam Williams is a really classy operator at the back so I think they are looking strong especially with their kicking game and those boys chasing it!
I think that is what Wales will build their game on as well as their defence. People are talking about the humidity saying it has been quite tough to play ball in hand so I think that back three could really expose a few teams.
Pumas next up for England
I think it will obviously b a much tougher game. That will probably show us where the England team are at. If they can beat Argentina and maybe put in a dominant display, you then probably fancy them to get to at least the semi-finals and then who knows what they can do?!
Argentina are a serious team so they need to win it first, but I think it will be a good game. England look very good in the forwards and I think in the backs, they have managed to get some interplay. George Ford is being used at 10 and he has played really well in those first couple of games as he did in the warm-ups. It be interesting to see how well he does in a tougher match, but I am sure he will do very well.
‘Sense of expectation’
Most of the boys in the squad weren’t really involved in that BaaBaas game I was in so I think ours was a bit of a one off. Saying that, you did get a sense of an air of expectation from Eddie Jones. He was obviously planning towards the World Cup.
He picked up guys like Lewis Ludlam and then also Joe Marchant, Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt who were involved in the wider squad. You can tell that has been their focus and they are looking fit and so far, it looks like the game plan has been working for them.
Favourites for the trophy?
In terms of favourites, it has to be New Zealand. However, I do think their gulf in class which has been evident over the past five to eight years, isn’t as dominant as it once was. You expect they may meet South Africa again at some point and that wouldn’t be a foregone conclusion and they often struggle against France too. That French team does have a lot of magic players so even on their day, you wonder if they could turn them over!
Settling in at Sale
As a team, we looked pretty sharp for a first run-out against Northampton in the Premiership Cup. Obviously, we put out a fairly strong team and it was great to be out there at the AJ Bell and score a couple of tries which is pretty rare for me!
I have managed to hopefully blend in well with the team. We put in a strong performance at home and went away to Saracens which although they have got a few injuries and players away at the World Cup, those young boys that were playing for them were strong players and they wouldn’t be playing for Sarries if they weren’t.
To go down there and win is a first for me and I don’t think Sale have done it in a long time as well so it has hopefully given us a bit of momentum going into this week against Wasps. We want to then carry that into the Premiership when it comes around.
Young guns and fortress AJ Bell
I am not sure how many changes we made for the Sarries game, but the guys we brought in and used like Tom Curtis, Cam Redpath, Luke James and Tom Roebuck on the wings, all stood out for us. It is a good sign for the squad that we have got these young boys pushing through combined with a competitive first team squad. The club looks in a fairly good way ahead of the new season.
We are back at home this weekend and we want to kind of build a fortress mentality. Going into that first Gloucester game in the Premiership, it would be great to have won both of our home matches and that will make it a difficult place for opposition teams to come and play. We go to London Irish next week where we will see a relatively strong side the week before the Premiership starts so that will be a measure of how we are looking going into the new season.
Simon Hammersley was speaking to Talking Rugby Union's Chris Heal