No European Blues for Sale Sharks

From Last Word on Rugby, Fiona Tomas

SALE SHARKS’ season isn’t exactly going swimmingly

Steve Diamond’s side have lost ten on the bounce which sees them sit six points above the relegation zone – the sorry story of a premiership campaign whose plot has taken frustrating and embarrassing turns with events off the pitch.

No European Blues for Sale Sharks

Josh Charnely arrived in November with all eyes and expectations upon him to live up to former Sale league convert Jason Robinson (that’s a better transfer narrative to remember) but has had limited opportunities fall his way. There is the ongoing fiery row with Castleford Tigers over the dubious signing of cross-coder Denny Solomona, which will be settled in court in March and this week the club terminated Tom Arscott’s contract with immediate effect after it was alleged he leaked team tactics of an extended 13-man line-out to his own Bristolian-playing brother.

That vital away victory at Newcastle on the final day of the last season, which saw Sale qualify for Europe and snub Harlequins of a sixth-place finish, may seem to many Sharks’ fans like a distant memory.

Whilst lying tenth in the Aviva Premiership might not look so glamorous for a side who claim to be aiming for a top six finish, the Shark’s spirited performance during their trip to Toulon last weekend – and having picked losing bonus points in their last two domestic league games suggests that they are perhaps starting to find a bit of form again.

Not many would have thought that The Sharks would have been leading triple European winners Toulon at half-time last Sunday afternoon, buoyed by strong forward play, let alone be trailing the French giants by a three point deficit with ten minutes to go before Kieran Longbottom’s contentious yellow card.

But the positives that Sale have gained in Europe go far beyond some of their hammering score lines have suggested. Cameron Neild last week reiterated the importance of playing in one of the toughest competitions in club rugby. “It is what it is,” he said, alluding to The Shark’s barren European run.

But behind such a bland comment there might just be a few positives – enough to keep his side afloat in this year’s Aviva.

Sam James is one of them. After his incredible solo ‘chip and run’ try last weekend against Toulon, it’s hard to believe that this guy is still only 22 and has matured massively in fulfilling the kicking duties that once belonged to Danny Cipriani.

Leaving his transfer saga to one side, Auckland-born Denny Solomona has crossed the line four times in his first three premiership starts for the Sharks and has made a blistering start to his second spell at union. The former London Broncos player looks cool as a cucumber despite the media furore surrounding his move – even if those four tries might prove costly.

Tom Curry was thrown in the deep end last October, making his competitive Sharks debut on the European stage against Toulon and has impressed with his ball carrying since. He scored a debut try against Bristol the week after and became the third youngest ever Premier league player to do so. If he and identical twin Sam can match their solid performances to date and repeat the firing form they enjoyed during the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s – where they scored 5 tries between them – Sale fans will have something to cheer about by the end of the season.

Playing in Europe has helped the club blood young players, introduce Solomona into the mix and has also provided a stern discipline test. The three yellows The Sharks received during the 50-3 hammering at Allianz Park stands out and with the club rumoured to snap up more league players, they’ll have to tighten up their act given the new tackling directives to forbid higher ‘chop’ tackles that are so common to league.

Sale’s European campaign might be over for at least another year, but they can now start keeping on top of things domestically. They might be down, but are not out.
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