Sale Sharks’ European campaign this season has been a case of what might have been but back-row forward Mark Easter insists he and his teammates can hold their heads high even if it ends without a win.
The Sharks head to Thomond Park to take on Munster this weekend looking to avoid six defeats from six in a pool that also included Saracens and Clermont Auvergne.
But that table does not tell the complete story for the Sharks who came within a whisker of beating all three of those sides at home.
Only an Ian Keatley drop goal saved Munster at the AJ Bell Stadium, Sarries had to make a last-ditch goalline stand to claim their win while last weekend French powerhouses Clermont were trailing with less than ten minutes to go before Fritz Lee’s try turned it around.
And 32-year-old Easter, who has made ten Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances this season, insists he and his teammates have learned a great deal despite their travails.
“Unfortunately in the last 10-15 minutes we let it slip away a little bit (against Clermont),” he said.
“It was disappointing as we wanted to win one of the home games and we pushed all three big sides pretty close so we take the positives from that.
“You remember the ones (games lost in closing stages) you lose more often but yes we’re always looking for that 80-minute performance. It’s a cliché but it’s really important.
“It’s always disappointing when you’ve been up there for 70 minutes and you lose it in the last ten, but you’ve got to go away and look at the stuff you’re doing well, keep reinforcing that and making sure everyone carries through with it and concentrates throughout the whole game.
“If you take the stats out of it our performances at home have been good and realistically we weren’t going to come top of our pool so we wanted to get experience from it.”
The Sharks can certainly feel hard done by in terms of the pool they were drawn in, indeed the other three sides were three of the four semi-finalists last season.
But Easter insists he would not have it any other way as their attention now turns back to domestic matters and a challenge for the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs.
He added: “Anyway our focus now will be the Premiership. We’re looking forward to that challenge and using these weeks to rebuild and get everyone right.
“We want to be playing against the best. We can be proud of our efforts and if we qualify again next year we wouldn’t want to change it because it’s good experience coming back into Premiership competition knowing you’ve been playing the best sides in Europe. That makes this squad stronger and builds you up as a team.
“The Premiership break is also a chance to refresh and everyone’s in the same boat so we’ve just got to keep sharp and train and use this time to refocus. There are guys who play every week so this helps get their minds fresh.”
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