A former Saracens physio once told me that Steve Diamond is mad and Diamond’s assertion that Sale Sharks “expect a top 4 finish” this season certainly appears to back that theory up (that really did happen, you meet some pretty interesting characters when you’re snowboarding in Canada)! Sale have just been taken over by CorpAcq Ltd (led by Jason Orange’s brother Simon) so positive intent and saying the things the money men want to hear surely lead Diamond to make such an outlandish statement. As an aside CorpAcq Ltd are, according to Bloomberg a “private equity firm specialising in buyouts and industry consolidation investments”, so a move into sports team ownership seems a little incongruous but that’s by the by.
Stability is a big part of building a successful team in any sport, the NFL’s New England Patriots have won have won 4 Super Bowl’s in the last 16 years under Bill Bellichick’s stewardship (with Tom Brady picking up 4 MVP awards) and while Sir Alex Ferguson was manager at Manchester United they collected 38 trophies in 27 years, since his departure they’ve won just 2. Stability, or in Sale’s case lack thereof is a very relevant issue going into the new season, they will have to bed 9 new players into their 2016-17 squad and to compound the difficulties that they may bring the end of the 2015-26 season saw the departure of 10 players. Of the 9 arriving players 5 of them have never played in England and only Dan Mugford has experience of playing for a Premiership team having been a member of Exeter Chief’s academy before moving to London Scottish. The other 4 have a remarkable 292 Aviva appearance between them but Rob Webber lays claim to a whopping 170 of them and Halani Aulika weighs in with a hefty 89 of his own, so all in all they’ve got a fairly inexperienced group to integrate. The most inexperienced of the group is without a doubt Josh Charnley who joins from Wigan Warriors Rugby League team, although at 25 he has plenty of time to learn and as a winger (an exceptionally good winger in the 13 man code) I can’t see adapting to union being a problem for the Chorley born try machine (149 in 151 appearances since you asked), he’s also a goal kicker and with the departure of the inconsistent boots of Danny Cipriani his ability could come in handy.
Cipriani’s departure could in itself be a problem since they’ve signed USA International Fly Half AJ MacGinty who will compete with Mugford for the 10 shirt, MacGinty is the more senior of the two at the ripe old age of 26 (Mugford is just 24) and after winning the Pro 12 with Connacht last season MacGinty will be full of confidence, but it’s hard to compare the Aviva Premiership and the Pro 12. With Nick MacLeod returning to Wales to play for the Dragons and Joe Ford moving to Yorkshire Carnegie Sale have technically lost 3 Fly Halves and signed just 2 so young prospect Tom Morton could find himself pressed into duty but having represented England at under 18 and under 20 level he may well prove to be Sale’s secret weapon in the upcoming season. Another promising player Diamond will be looking forward to working with is Laurence Pearce, the former Leicester Tiger is a rampaging back rower but in TJ Ioane, Daniel Braid, Magnus Lund, David Seymour, Cameron Neild, the hotly tipped George Nott and most importantly the even more rampaging Josh Beaumont Sale have quite a queue of talented back rowers just waiting to play.
Sale may well improve on their 6th place finish this season but with at least 4 teams who have gone through much less upheaval during the offseason (including Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers <even Bath have only signed 7 new players, although their coaching situation is becoming comical> and Harlequins, although they have new coaches joining their staff too) it will be an incredible achievement if they manage to crack the top for the first time since they finished as Champions in 2005-06.