This week’s announcement that Sale Sharks are planning to build a new stadium and sports village is the latest step in the growth of rugby union in Manchester. While the men’s team is flying high in the Gallagher Premiership, there will also be Sale Sharks women in the top-flight next season.
James Barker investigates how Sale is aiming to become a powerhouse of rugby union in northern England.
Returning to Sale with a new stadium
Sale Sharks announced on June 11 that they plan to “return home”. They have been playing in Salford since 2012 and previously were based in Stockport.
RETURNING HOME | We can finally share our exciting vision for a historic return to our hometown of Sale, in a new state-of-the-art stadium.
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) June 11, 2020
The last time the Sharks played in Sale was pre-2003, when they were based at the traditional Haywood Road ground. This is currently the home of national one side Sale FC and the Sale Jets ‘A’ team, and will host Sale Sharks women. Situated just outside the M60 motorway that circles Manchester, Sale is very much in competition for support with nearby Manchester United FC, as well as the presence of Salford Red Devils with whom they share the AJ Bell Stadium.
Given Manchester United are one of the most supported sports clubs on the planet, which often forces Sale into Friday or Sunday home fixtures, it is unsurprising that Sharks tend to struggle to attract large crowds. However, with the upturn in fortunes of the team on the pitch, attendances have been ticking steadily upwards. Their 2019/20 average was 7,175, well up from previous years of crowds below 5000.
Internationals flock to Sale Sharks women
A more immediate development for the club is the entry of their women’s team into the Premier 15s competition for 2020/21. They will compete as one of the ten top-flight women’s teams for the next three years. As in the men’s game, most clubs are based in the South, presenting Sale with further opportunities to establish themselves as the home of rugby union in the north west. This has been helped by the removal of Firwood Waterloo Ladies, who were based in Liverpool.
ICYMI @SaleSharksWomen announced 6 new signings today!
Read about it here https://t.co/5GjHCKZobM
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) June 2, 2020
No time has been wasted in assembling a competitive squad for the new season. Internationals Nicola Howat, Lucy Winter, Katy Daley-Mclean, Mhaira Grieve, Molly Kelly and Jess Wooden have all signed as have several age-grade players.
Play-off return for Sale Sharks men?
Before the 2019/20 season was curtailed, Sale were flying high in the Gallagher Premiership. With eight wins in 13 games, they were sitting second, five points behind Exeter Chiefs. Should the season be completed, there could yet be a trip to Twickenham, and maybe even a repeat of their 2006 league win.
After several years of tight budgets, Steve Diamond has been allowed to spend. World Cup winner Lood de Jager has joined Faf de Klerk, whilst Sam Hill has been tempted away from rivals Exeter.
Future is bright for Sale Sharks
The Sharks has become an attractive destination for players again. We now know Sale will also be a location for rugby union again. As we’ve seen from the likes of Saracens, London Irish and Wasps, place matters a lot. It won’t happen overnight, but Sale Sharks are on the way to building to club for many to be proud of.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images