Apologies for the paucity of this week's match report. Normal service will resume next week. Meanwhile continuing sending your questions in for this week's Feeding Time mailbag.
Some abridged thoughts from Sale's 36-36 draw with Saracens on Saturday:
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Friday morning saw a continuation of the flow of contract extensions being signed at Carrington in recent weeks with the news that scrum-half Peter Stringer has penned a one-year extension to stay with Sale Sharks for the 2016-17 season.
Capped a staggering 98 times by Ireland, Stringer, who joined Sale from Bath this summer on a one year deal, has so far made 13 appearances for the Sharks and has arguably already usurped former incumbent Chris Cusiter as first choice scrum-half in less than half a season.
Stringer, despite still playing at an age (38) few others have matched in the professional era, was named in pre-season as the second fittest member of the Sale squad and has impressed this year with his accurate but quick distribution from the base of the ruck and vision in kicking tactically. Although no longer possessing the pace to threaten opposition around the fringes, Stringer has worked wonderfully in tandem with fly-half Danny Cipriani in orchestrating Sale's backline with the Sharks having been noticeably more potent and threatening in attack with Stringer-Cipriani as the half-back combination, due to the quick service Stringer is able to offer Cipriani et al. allowing Sale to play on the front foot more frequently.
Re-signing Stringer now allows Sale some security at the scrum-half position going into 2016-17. Former England U20 representative James Mitchell is still likely not ready for full-time Premiership duty whilst the contract status of fellow nine Chris Cusiter remains up in the air. Regardless of whether Cusiter re-signs or not however, Stringer is a key component of the Sharks' ever-improving backline and an experienced clubhouse leader in the Sale first team, meaning therefore, that like James, Addison, Jennings, and Seymour in recent weeks, this is an important deal for Sale to have finalised.
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It's the question that has been on every Sale supporter's lips since last Tuesday; how do Sale go about replacing their Wasps-bound starting fly-half?
In my report of Danny Cipriani's announced intention to leave the Sharks at the end of the season to return 'home', I noted that despite Cipriani's generational attacking instincts and vision, the one area keeping the 28-year-old from adding to his 14 England caps is his sub-par place kicking, which he then vindicated by missing all four of his conversion attempts against Worcester the following Saturday.
As previously stated, losing Cipriani will be a massive blow to Sale Sharks for a plethora of reasons, but if Sale can find a replacement who can kick 75%+ of his attempts at goals and bring some semblance of attacking vision and creativity to a Sharks backline that is becoming ever less reliant on individual magic to win games, Sale can be as good, if not better with a new fly-half pulling the strings in 2016-17.
With Director of Rugby Steve Diamond promising to scour the globe in search of a 'big name' replacement in the aftermath of Cipriani enacting his break clause, the suspicion is neither Joe Ford or Nick Macleod will be the long-term successor Cipriani's no.10 jersey when the new season begins in September 2016. Similarly, Diamond's statement that nobody in the academy is ready to assume full-time fly-half duties suggest former England U20 prospect Tom Morton is likewise not as seen as an immediate substitution.
So using Diamond's criteria (a 'big name' player, preferably English, something of similar ability/value) let's take a trip around the rugby sphere and identify who Sale could lure to the North-West for next season.
Probably the best option on this admittedly narrow list, Northampton Saints fly-half Stephen Myler would be a fantastic coup for Sale. A former rugby-league player born in Widnes, Myler's name has been touted with a possible return to the North of England for a number of seasons now, and although there's no indication he's ever seriously contemplated a move from the Midland, the temptation to return 'home' has proven to be an enticing factor in recent weeks.
Myler would bring mounds of experience to a young Sale backline along with some title-winning prestige having steered his Saints team to glory in 2013-14. Most importantly however, he would offer Sale the consistent kicking boot that they do not possess with Cipriani. The trade off, of course, is that Myler does not possess the attacking instincts of Cipriani (who does?) but with the change in strategy implemented by Paul Deacon's arrival, this probably wouldn't be much of a detriment to the Sharks' current gameplan.
After four seasons of the 'maverick' Cipriani, a steady and dependable fly-half like Myler could mark a nice change for Sale.
In recent weeks, it has been heavily rumoured in The Rugby Paper that Welsh international Rhys Priestland and current club Bath are seeking a mutual separation following Priestland's u-turn on his decision to have a sabbatical from international rugby.
Sale and Bristol have been pinpointed by Neil Fissler as being the two sides most inclined to take Priestland off Bath's books, however there comes some risk should the Sharks win the hypothetical race for the former Scarlets man.
First and foremost, Priestland is a current Wales international on a hefty (reported £290,000 p/a) contract. Not only would Sale have to splash out a lot of money for Priestland, but he'd also be unavailable for a sizeable chunk of the Premiership season. Furthermore Priestland, although marginally superior to Cipriani, is not of the level of place kicking that Sale require to close out the tight matches that have eluded them in recent years.
That said, Priestland is an exciting attacking talent with considerable pace, able to both attack the line and move the chains. He also has substantial experience of playing at fullback, a position Sale are desperately short at beyond 21-year-old Mike Haley.
I'd envision Priestland very much as a high risk / high reward signing.
Jimmy Gopperth/Ruaridh Jackson
Last week Dimes made a very pertinent point regarding Cipriani's future (old) club Wasps. With their signing of Cipriani, Wasps now have three quality fly-halves to split playing time between - Cipriani, current incumbent Jimmy Gopperth and Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson - an unenviable situation that will surely lead to one of the three expressing discontent over (a lack of) playing time.
Could Sale therefore effectively do a like-for-like swap with Cipriani's future employers?
Jimmy Gopperth would be an ideal signing, an extremely strong kicker who has also shown plenty of attacking intent and creativity as part of a rampaging Wasps attack this season. That said, he'd also be the perfect compliment to Cipriani's more mercurial playing style as a 1-2 punch at Wasps so the likelihood of Sale tempting the New Zealander away from the Ricoh is slim.
Ruaridh Jackson, meanwhile, appears to be the odd-man-out in Coventry ahead of next season but he has many of the same traits that could ward Sale off from signing Priestland - namely possible international duties and less-than-ideal kicking percentages. Again, he has fullback experience and the creative mindset to flourish as a regularly starting Premiership fly-half but it would be another risky signing for Sale, especially considering Jackson's lengthy injury history.
Perhaps the most intriguing name on this list is 22-year-old Ospreys fly-half Sam Davies.
Firmly behind Welsh superstar Dan Biggar at Ospreys, Davies - although he's centrally contracted with the Welsh Union - could be tempted by a big-money to the Premiership akin to George North or the aforementioned Priestland, especially as those examples have shown crossing the border no longer inhibits a long and productive international career.
Davies has been one of the star performers in both this year's Pro 12 and European Champions Cup competitions including a sterling, match-winning performance against Clermont last month.
Investing in a 22-year-old as the future of such an important position would of course be a substantial risk, but the possibility of securing the signature of one of Wales' brightest young talents long-term (who has already featured 68 times for his region), especially before he reaches full international honours, is an enticing prospect.
Rumoured to be a short-term replacement following Diamond's comments that Cipriani could leave now if Wasps bought him out after a poor performance in the loss to Worcester, the Lamb-to-Sharks rumours emerged Saturday evening after a number of supports noted Diamond 'having a long conversation' with the Warriors fly-half.
First of all, I dispute the notion that Sale would be in a better position this if Cipriani was sent off on 'gardening leave'. Although I can understand the concerns that Cipriani's heart/head may no longer be with playing for Sale considering his impending egress, I point to Tommy Taylor and Vadim Cobilas' continued exemplary performances despite their respective upcoming departures to suggest it would be foolish to think Cipriani will not continue to give his all until the end of the season, especially considering his international ambitions.
By extension then, I do not believe Sale would require the services of Ryan Lamb, even in a short-term capacity. He distributes well, and has experience orchestrating quality attacking play, but his place-kicking is similarly iffy
and he wouldn't constitute the quality and consistent performer Sale need to rebuild themselves into a top-six team.
Lewis Hughes believes, in order of preference, Sale should sign Myler, Davies, Gopperth, Priestland, Jackson, Lamb. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Sale responded to the disappointment surrounding the announcement of Danny Cipriani's intention to rejoin Wasps in the summer, with news Wednesday morning that centre Sam James has re-signed with the club on a two-year-deal.
James, who turned out for Wilmslow High School and Manchester Colts before turning professional with Sale made a handful of first team appearances in 2014 before announcing his arrival proper with a superb individual chip-and-gather score for what turned out to be the decisive try in Sale's win over Northampton in November; only his second Premiership appearance:
This season, James has started all but one Premiership game for Sale, firmly cementing himself as the Sharks first choice Outside Centre with a number of impressive displays that have showcased his complete package of talents including passing, out-of-hand kicking, strength, and foot speed.
Although his defensive positioning and tackling could use a little refining, and he isn't the place kicker Sale require to replace the aforementioned Cipriani (despite many suggestions from Sharks' supporters), retaining James, even in his debut season, is an important get for Sale considering the 6ft 5 centre's eye catching form that has seen the likes of David Flatman earmark for future England international honours.
Indeed James has been one of Sale's biggest stories of the season with his vision, distribution and playmaking skills having brought an extra dimension to Sale's new-look attack as the second 'pivot' in the Sharks' backline. At 13, not only is James able to spread the ball wide to the likes of Will Addison or Mike Haley who have been more effective than in recent years due to the space and speed at which they are now receiving the ball, but James is equally able to control the game with adept out-of-hand territorial kicking or cut inside and play successful crash ball rugby by using his towering frame, see for example his try against Harlequins:
Despite his young age, James has been one of Sale's most consistent performers in what has turned out to be an up-and-down 2015/16 campaign and with Cipriani's exit on the horizon, the emergence of James as a second game-changing playmaker in the Sharks squad bodes well for the transition period next year and beyond. Although I fully believe he will be kept at Outside Centre for the foreseeable future, James' exciting and well-rounded skillset means he could easily rise to prominence as Sale's main creative force by the end of the season.
Although James' signature is now secure - at least for the next two seasons - questions still remain about the future of the current Sale backline. With Cipriani leaving and Chris Cusiter, Peter Stringer, Tom Brady, and Nev Edwards all out of contract at the end of the season, significant gaps are still apparent in the Sharks' back division. Answers however may be imminent:
Lewis Hughes would very much like to guest on Nathan Middleton's Rugby Union Extra show. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
An abysmal first half and four missed conversions from Danny Cipriani condemned Sale to a disappointing first loss of 2016, as they fell 31-23 to Worcester Warriors at Sixways on Saturday afternoon.
A try bonus point, courtesy of scores from Mike Haley (two), Tommy Taylor, and David Seymour, will be scant consolation for the Sharks who, considering the contrast in form between the two sides coming into the game, effectively blew an opportunity to leap into the Premiership's top-six at the expense of a Warriors team who hadn't won in 13 games.
Sale now face a huge clash against reigning champions Saracens back at the AJ Bell this Saturday as the Sharks look to regain some momentum ahead of a tough run-in of fixtures.
On a more positive note, Saracens will be sans Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, and Alex Goode for their visit to Manchester, kick-off 1pm.
Lewis Hughes doesn't know whether Saturday's performance was worse than Newcastle at home but it sure is close. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Danny Cipriani will leave Sale Sharks to re-join his former club Wasps on a two-year-deal at the end of the 2015/16 season.
The fly-half's departure - rumoured on and off for the best part of the last three seasons - was first reported by The Daily Mail late Monday night before Wasps confirmed 'The Homecoming' on Tuesday afternoon. Sale Sharks have not publicly commented.
Cipriani joined Sale from Melbourne Rebels in 2012 and over the course of three-and-a-half seasons has made 91 first-team appearances, scored 697 points, shed his 'problem child' label and developed into one of the finest all-round fly-halves in the country. The 28-year-old's omission from both Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones' England squads last, and this year, respectively was met with understandable outcry considering Cipriani's consistently strong domestic form for Sale despite a somewhat challenging first year in Manchester in 2012/13.
A generational attacking talent, Cipriani has been the star attraction at Sale for going on three seasons now. To steal an 'Americanism' - he is the current face of the Sale Sharks franchise; the image splashed out on every bit of marketing, the player the kids want to meet, the big-name to put bums on seats (in theory). So for Sale to lose him, it is a bitter, bitter blow, especially for a smaller club that helped mould Cipriani on his return to England in 2012 from a gifted but troubled young star into the outstanding player he is today. To see Cipriani leave Sale for Wasps - who have already announced the signing of fellow Shark Tommy Taylor for next season - just compounds matters.
Understandably the announcement has been met with universal disappointment from Sale fans. Cipriani wasn't the perfect fly-half by any stretch but he is the calibre of player who can conjure a game-winning moment out of thin air - something he has done many times for Sale in recent years - and to have one of those rare players, although they can be occasionally frustrating, is a source of pride for many supporters, myself included.
What is even more disheartening is what it suggests for Sale's ambitions in the near future on and off the field. Cipriani initially penned a two-year extension in January of 2015, although it soon emerged the contract contained a break clause allowing Cipriani to end his obligations with the club prematurely should he desire. For Cipriani to have activated that clause then, and agreed to jump ship to Wasps, simply suggests Sale can no longer match the levels of ambition desired by their poster boy (or indeed Tommy Taylor). Its hard to blame him; the supposed investment promised to Cipriani by the club as he extended his contract to become a serious competitive force in the Premiership and Europe never materialised beyond the acquisition of Tighthead Brian Mujati.
The allure of Wasps meanwhile is apparent - huge crowds, an exciting brand of rugby, Champions Cup participation, a star-studded squad and genuine silverware ambitions dwarf anything Sale can offer, at least at this moment in time.
So where do Sale go from here?
Cipriani will unquestionably be a huge loss, but he is not irreplaceable, and his departure might not have the on-field ramifications some are suggesting.
First and foremost the Sharks must reverse the trend of the bad press Cipriani's departure will inevitably generate around the club. The best to way to do that is to ensure that Cipriani's sizeable wages (I have it on good authority he is the highest paid player at the club) are re-invested in full back into the playing squad, especially towards a similarly high-profile replacement.
Sale are not just losing their starting fly-half, they are also losing their 'big ticket'. Securing a similar calibre of player is essential if they want to remain relevant in the overflowing sporting market of North-West England and to calm supporters' fears that the club have no ambition beyond treading water in the Premiership's lower mid-table.
Secondly, for as unique as Cipriani is as a playmaker (and increasingly as a tackling fly-half), there are still sizeable gaps in his game.
Many speculate - not without reason - that Cipriani's continued exile from international rugby is down to his below-average place-kicking ability. Indeed this season (and forgive me that I do not have conclusive statistics), Cipriani has missed close to 50 points off the tee, including important penalty and drop goal attempts that cost Sale dearly in losses to Gloucester and Harlequins. If Sale can procure a fly-half with a reputation of a metronomic kicker, the team will be in a far stronger position to play 'sucker punch' rugby against stronger teams and in gaining field position - Cipriani has a tendency to be overly conservative with his kicks to touch.
This season's arrival of Paul Deacon as attack/backs coach meanwhile and his focus on ensuring Sale take a simpler, more basic approach to attacking stratagem has seen the club come to depend less on Cipriani to create one of his signature 'out of nothing' moments to help win games. Sale are playing exciting, attacking, and most importantly, winning rugby on a gameplan built on their near-unstoppable pack with a focus on simplicity and intelligent decision-making when the ball is moved to their backline. Having Cipriani's creativity and vision is obviously of benefit to this style but there is no longer a dependence on Cipriani to be the sole cog in Sale's backs play like there was two seasons ago.
If Sale can find a fly-half who can flash some of the inventive offensive capabilities Cipriani possesses whilst also offering a much stronger and consistent place-kicking option, Cipriani can be replaced.
On the one hand, to see Cipriani leave is a huge blow; he is very much the star player on the pitch every club and marketing department lusts after. But on the other, part of me is thankful I won't have to wake up to a new Cipriani-to-Toulon rumour everyday.
The idea that Cipriani has betrayed the club as I have heard some people suggest is simply ludicrous; Sale will have agreed to the break clause when negotiating his contract extension last season so nothing has been done underhand and nobody has been deceived. I don't even buy the idea he strung Sale along whilst making his mind up - this was clearly a hard decision to make and Cipriani has been a loyal servant to Sale.
Cipriani gave four of his very best years to Sale and chose to remain with the club last season despite the temptation of big money in Toulon and in London. No, he would not be the player he is today without Sale and Steve Diamond finally helping him mature, but sports operate very much on quid pro quo and Cipriani has repaid Sale's assistance with a number of truly astonishing performances in his three-and-a-half-years in blue so far.
It truly will be a shame to see Cipriani depart but moving back to Wasps, above anybody else, makes sense. And this is hardly the end of the world for Sale, a top-class replacement and the club and its supporters will be optimistic again. Plus we've had three years' worth of Cipriani leaving rumours, it had to happen eventually.
Lewis Hughes believes if Sale can get over losing Charlie Hodgson, they can get over losing Danny Cipriani. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions.
Sale Sharks claimed another impressive scalp on Saturday to continue their unbeaten start to 2016 with a 23-17 victory over second place Exeter.
For perhaps the first time this season, Sale enjoyed the total rub of the green as a couple of fortuitous bounces in the build up to Johnny Leota's and Mike Haley's tries, along with a well-worked Nev Edwards score and eight points from the boot of Danny Cipriani helped the Sharks win their sixth consecutive game in all competitions (eighth in their last nine).
Despite another august outing for Sale however, wins for Northampton and Wasps conspired to keep the Sharks outside the top-six for another week, although losses for Harlequins and Leicester mean Sale are now only three points adrift of the Premiership play-off places and retain a precious game-in-hand on all of their closest rivals.
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Seriously, what happened to the 'set your alarm' tweets from Sale Sharks the night prior to an announcement?
At 6 o'clock this morning, Sale Sharks confirmed that flanker David Seymour had signed a two year extension to his contract, due to expire at the end of the season.
Seymour, 31, has featured a staggering 160 times for Sale since moving up to Manchester from Saracens in 2009 and also served as club captain during the 2012-13 season. His new deal will run until the end of the 2017-18 season.
Last year I wrote that Seymour was one of five players that Sale must retain at all costs ahead of next season due to his combination of experience, technical ability, leadership and fervour as both a tackler and a ball-carrier.
'Boris', as he is affectionally known, has endeared himself greatly when deployed in the 'fetcher' role - pressuring the opposition at the breakdown and turning the ball over which he does with aplomb - whilst his defensive positioning, particularly around the fringes, allows him to rack up tackle en masse throughout the course of every game. Seymour's surprising turn of pace also makes him an asset both as a covering defender and as a counter-attacking option on the wings or in broken play when Sale are able to secure turnover ball.
Something that has gone under the radar this season is that Seymour's versatility - and consummate professionalism - in being deployed sometimes as the starting openside and sometimes as the replacement off the bench for any combination of Cameron Neild, TJ Ioane, Magnus Lund or Dan Braid, has been instrumental in preserving Sale's corp of back row players to ensure the collective maximum impact over the course of this uniquely triturating season. Seymour has particular taking on more responsibility and playing time in the aftermath of team captain Braid's potentially season-ending injury in January.
Meanwhile with a view to the future, although the performances of both TJ Ioane (who had somewhat surpassed Seymour as Sale's go-to openside this year, at least before Braid's injury) and the rapidly emerging Cameron Neild have combined to push Seymour slightly further down the depth chart than experienced in recent years, Dan Braid's scheduled retirement at the end of the season will require Seymour to take on an even larger slice of veteran and leadership duties from next season onwards, especially in marshalling and tutoring a young but extremely talented back-row that features the aforementioned Neild and Josh Beaumont.
There is a possibility Seymour may not be a nailed-on starter for the Sharks next season, but his impressive amalgamation of attributes indicated above means his is an influence too important to be left out of any of Sale's matchday squads next season, barring injury. Having secured an extension for one of the most influential, multifaceted and underrated statesman of the current Sale squad therefore is an excellent bit of business by Steve Diamond and co.
Attention at Carrington will now likely turn towards the possibility to extending the contracts of Chris Cusiter, Johnny Leota, Neville Edwards, and Peter Stringer, the out of contract players who have played the largest roles in Sale's season so far. I am told more renewals are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Lewis Hughes thinks 3/5 critical retentions isn't too bad. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Another day, another surprise announcement.
First thing on Sunday morning, Sale Sharks announced that winger/centre Will Addison and centre Mark Jennings had both signed extensions to their current contracts at the club, although the length of their respective new deals were not disclosed.
The announcement makes Addison and Jennings the first of Sale’ current crop of out-of-contract players to re-sign for next season (and possibly beyond) and off-sets the understandable disappointment that came with the news that both Tommy Taylor and Vadim Cobilas will be leaving the club upon the culmination of their contracts at the end of the season.
In fact it is in light of the news that Taylor - the latest in a worryingly long list to desert Sale and move down the M6 to join Premiership rivals Wasps - will leave the club at the end of the season that makes his fellow teammates' decision to commit their future to Sale that bit sweeter.
The importance of the deals struck with Messers Addison and Jennings should not be understated; for the first time in far too long Sale have not only managed to nurture the talents of two young and exciting English players to the point where they are impactful Premiership players with a number of years of experience under their belts, but have then been able to convince their stalwarts to disregard interest from elsewhere to re-commit to the club that initially brought them through.
Addison - even if his admitted preference is to play centre - is the best, and most complete, winger the Sharks currently have at their disposal bar none and the 23-year-old is currently enjoying a breakthrough season now that his lengthy troubles with injury appears to be behind him.
Jennings, 22, meanwhile is being groomed as the long-term replacement of Sam Tuitupou at the inside centre position, with the latter, now 34 years old and apparently unable to partake in any form of training session during the week leading up to games, inching towards retirement. Jennings' combative and impactful playing style is the perfect fit for Steve Diamond's idealised attacking system and both Jennings and Addison now appear to be pencilled in as lynchpins of the Sale backline for years to come.
And the sudden reversal in the signing tendencies of Sale's young players with genuine international aspirations - and make no mistake both Addison and Jennings possess the talent to seriously contend for England honours in the future - has offered the club a significant boost to the 'feel good' factor emanating from all aspects of Sale at present. From Josh Beaumont's selection as an England international, to signing another England international to replace the aforementioned Taylor, to Saturday's prodigious 10-3 victory away to Leicester, to the Sharks' current unbeaten start to 2016 - there is a real buzz in the air when discussing the club's current fortunes that the Addison and Jennings news will only contribute to.
Whilst it was frustrating to not have confirmation of how long either Addison or Jennings have extended for, as one Twitter user pointed out to me, this could be a deliberate attempt by Sale to obfuscate any future attempts from rival clubs to poach either from the club. If opaqueness is the price to pay to keep two of Sale's budding stars at the club, it's an acceptable price to pay.
Now, when is David Seymour re-signing?
Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions.
Sale produced their best performance of the season – and possibly their best since Steve Diamond retook control of the side in 2012 – to secure a prodigious 10-3 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday.
The win was Sale’s first in the Premiership away from the cosy confines of the AJ Bell Stadium this season and monumentally it also served as the Sharks’ first victory at Welford Road since 2008 and only their second since 2003(!)
In terrible conditions, captain-on-the-day Josh Beaumont’s 62nd minute try proved decisive as Sale resolutely withstood Tigers’ late onslaught to close out a game they thoroughly controlled from the opening whistle. The narrow margin of victory meanwhile suggests this may prove to be a turning point in Sale’s season as after rueful losses away to Harlequins and Gloucester earlier this year, they were finally able to escape back to Manchester with the four points their performance had warranted.