I got there at 12, with plenty of time to get a drink and decide where oh where I was going to sit...or stand. At Sale Sharks old home, Heywood Road, seating and standing isn't allocated - first come, first served. First I was in the main stand, waiting as usual for my friend to arrive and I just found myself gazing over at the Burtles Stand. Should I watch the matches from there? The thought was appealing and the practical side of me piped up saying "Yeah go on! It will be good practice for the South Stand at Barton". Very well brain. You win. And so I stood metres away from the Players Pit with only a wooden barrier separating me from the Spartans.
The first match kicked off at 12.30 with a threatening cloud looming. Taunting us with the prospect of rain. (Pac A Mac was in the backpack... always thinking me!) The match was Sale Sharks Academy against the North Wales representative side Rygbi Gogledd Cymru. It was a great match for both sides. The game was split into 3 halves where each side could chop and change their players. And what players! Cymru had a winger with blistering speed. We had (maybe a tad biased here) brilliant tackles, runs and just some really exciting young talent coming through. We won the game 36 - 27.
Then it was the turn of our first choice squad against the might of West Scotland, Glasgow Warriors. The Weather Gods seemed to have received the memo that it was a special day and they cleared the clouds and I suddenly found myself rather warm. It was Mark Cueto's Testimonial match. 10 years at one clubs is quite an achievement and the crowd came out in force to cheer on their support for Mark and the Club.
Everyone seemed to put in 200%. There were trys from Vernon, Miller, our new captain Dave Seymour, to name a few. Conversions from the nifty boots of Miller and Macleod, all set us up for a strong lead. Charlie Amesbury in particular set up an amazing try by being light on his feet and FAST FAST FAST! The crowd piped up singing "LETS GO CHARLIE! LETS GO! LETS GO CHARLIE! LETS GO!
I found myself throughout the match going "OOOUUUF!" in sympathy to the players on both sides. The tackles came hard and fast! And being so close to the pitch you could hear bodies colliding. New signing Richie Gray took to the field in the second half and you instantly had a squeaky bum excitement for the coming season as he bolted and jumped for the ball at kick off. He got it. Naturally. The guy is TALL!
What made the whole afternoon that more enjoyable was the fact that I was standing. I was jumping up and down, shouting out my encouragement and there was that general sense of "YEAH! Bring on the South Stand!". Where I was stood, I was very close to the players pit, and when anyone got subbed the crowd cheered and clapped. The players looked very humbled by this. When Johnny Leota came off he sat down next to Eifion Lewis Roberts (right in front of me) saying "The first game is always hardest" to which I butted in and said "You did brilliantly lads!". Johnny thanked me for my sentiments, but it was true. These guys are on top form and they may be having a shock to the system, now that play is over, but me personally? I am excited! They looked amazing! Every single one of those guys played their heart out today and it was brilliant to watch. I can't wait for Friday's game against Leinster! See you there! Oh, and if you haven't heard already... we won!