Stop me if you've heard this one before.
On Saturday, Sale played exceeding well for sixty minutes away from home - this time at Sandy Park - only to find themselves finishing the game with less points than their play warranted gaining.
In this case it was the last fifteen minutes where Exeter - who to be fair were the better side all afternoon - ran riot, scoring at a point-per-minute pace to leave Sale empty-handed at the final whistle.
The game was to change with a horrendous Joe Ford error. 18-17 down with fourteen minutes to go, Ford attempted to run the ball instead of kick despite heavy Chiefs pressure just inside his own half. Ford was to be tackled, lose possession and the ball was to fall kindly to James Short who would have the easiest of run-ins. Eleven point lead and game over.
Now I can appreciate what Ford was trying to do with that play, but a bad mistake at a pivotal point cost Sale a much-deserved losing bonus point and possibly more, such was the equal standing both sides were on for much of the game.
Instead Sale now slump to their fourth consecutive away loss and are winless in their last five Premiership fixtures.
Lewis Hughes hopes to see all of you at next Saturday's hopefully sold-out game against Wasps. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions.
Sourcing contract information from Sale Sharks is notoriously difficult. Short press releases and vague BBC articles are often the only glimpse fans have into the inner workings of Sale's distribution of money and term amongst their playing squad. With discussions regarding the feasibility of retaining both Tommy Taylor and Will Addison - a duo who both have contracts set to expire at the end of the 2015-16 season - currently circulating, I thought now was as good as time as any to try and decipher which members of the current Sharks squad could possibly leave the club at the end of the season and rank for whom priority should be placed in getting a contract extension inked.
Retention Is A Must
Potential England internationals do not grow on trees and Sale need to do all they can to retain the ones they produce through their academy. Taylor is a unique talent and probably the best 'hooking' hooker in the league; he has to be the Sharks' no.1 priority in getting re-signed this season.
The best all-round winger at the club and yet another potentially elite talent produced of the club's own volition. Sale have been patient with Addison having seen the winger struggle with a number of career-threatening injuries since bursting into the first team in 2012. It'd be nice to see that loyalty repaid, at least for another couple of years.
The addition of Brian Mujati over the summer fixed Sale's incessant reliance of Cobilas as the team's premier - and only - tighthead prop. Losing Cobilas this summer would cause that exact same problem to re-emerge, with Ciaran Parker still a year or so away from being ready for consistent Premiership action.
Former England U20 representative Jennings has immense potential as an inside centre that is still yet to be fully realised. An incredibly talented ball-carrier, Jennings is the future of Sale's no.12 shirt. Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota will not last forever.
With Dan Braid retiring at the end of this season, David Seymour's vast experience and breakdown nous will become even more important for Sale next season. Still a highly effective - and underrated- operator Seymour is a pivotal figure at the club as one of Sale's longest-tenured players.
James Mitchell is not ready for full-time Premiership duty and Peter Stringer is rapidly nearing the conclusion of his playing days. There are holes in Cusiter's game and I have my doubts he's the best fit for Sale's current playing style, but unless another experienced and international scrum-half becomes available, Sale should look to keep Cusiter around.
On current form Leota is the superior centre between himself and Sam Tuitupou, but with Hacksaw Sam signed for another season beyond this one and Leota turning 32 in a month's time, Sale have a big decision to make; is it time to hand the reigns over to Mark Jennings and Sam James as the future of the Sharks' midfield?
Brady has found his appearances limited so far this season but did impress against Pau last month. The 24-year-old is a useful squad player who can suit up for Premiership action in a pinch, no reason to let him go if the option to re-sign him is available.
The jury is still out on Nev Edwards and a more concrete decision should be made once Edwards' progression to professional fifteens can be better evaluated next year. But so far Edwards has flashed a skill set unique within the Sale squad and could certainly be worth retaining beyond this season.
Arguably Sale's form scrum-half this season, if possible Stringer should definitely be extended. But having turned 38 earlier this month, the Irish centenarian could very well be in line to retire come season's end. We shall see.
Time To Move On
A loyal and experienced member of the squad, Macleod unfortunately does not offer either the cutting edge in set play or the metronomic kicking to be considered a viable backup for a team challenging for the top-six.
A good 'defensive' flanker, Easter is unfortunate in that Sale have a trio of better all-round players in the same position (Ioane, Lund, Seymour) and his skill set does not function well as a Premiership Number 8, despite Steve Diamond's insistence on playing him there.
See: Nick Macleod. Signed an undisclosed deal when he joined Sale from Yorkshire Carnegie in summer 2013 which I believe was for three years although no confirmation was never made.
Signed part-way through the 2013-14 season on a three-year-deal, although having joined in November, I am not sure whether that means Fihaki can leave at the end of this season or if he's contracted until November 2016. Probably the former. Anyway discarded from first-team action in perpetuity unfortunately I would be more shocked if Fihaki is brought back to the club than if he leaves, despite his obvious talent.
Definitely on the periphery of Sale's first-team squad, so much so that there is no contract information available for him anywhere.
Signed a three-year-deal in 2013 but hasn't played in over a year for Sale (possibly because of injury)? If he's still at the club, I can't imagine him being offered an extension.
Lewis Hughes dreams of the day somebody creates a website purely dedicated to rugby contracts and salaries. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions.
We start this week's mailbag with a question I am three weeks late in answering, so first and foremost, my apologies to The Keg. We're now a further two games into the season since Keg offered this question but with Sale having only gained an additional three points (a draw and a bonus point loss to Newcastle and Gloucester respectively) my prediction that Sale will find themselves mired in the lower mid-table has only further been vindicated.
The Sharks currently lie in 8th in the Premiership (albeit only two points off Wasps in 6th), but with a turn around in Bath's middling form inevitable, it's a lot easier to envision Sale dropping further down the standings than mounting a serious top-six challenge in the coming weeks especially since the Sharks have been guilty of failing to see out three games in three weeks they should've won by every metric.
Neither Joe Ford or Nick MacLeod have managed to impress in (admittedly) limited game-time this season. Or for any period in the last three years for that matter. Cipriani is Sale's poster boy and probably only star attraction but his form this season has been hit-and-miss, not aided by the fact that there is no competition for his No.10 jersey.
Tom Morton is an interesting prospect who could see time with the England U20s this season but he's still clearly at least a year, if not two, away from being a Premiership calibre player.
In my mind Sale's best course of action would be to let both MacLeod and Ford leave at the end of the season (I believe both are out of contract?) use their combined money to look for a backup fly-half with a reputation as a metronomic kicker first and foremost, and bring Morton to the periphery of the first team akin to what Sale are doing with James Mitchell at scrum-half.
On current form, absolutely.
One of the biggest problems plaguing the third-worst attack in the Premiership this season has been Chris Cusiter's inability to produce quick ball for the likes of Danny Cipriani, and increasingly Sam James, to exploit. On multiple occasions against Newcastle a fortnight ago I counted it taking over ten seconds for Cusiter to deliver the ball from the base of the ruck, either to the first receiver, or to produce a box-kick. Not only does this allow ample time for the opposition defence to reset and get back into position along the defensive line, it also presents more opportunities for Sale's opponents to pressure the ruck defence and force a turnover or kick the ball loose - remember Cusiter's horror-show against Northampton?
Peter Stringer on the other hand has been superb in facilitating Sale's attack when given the opportunity to start. The differences in Cusiter and Stringer's box-kicking and ability around the fringes, are at this point negligible, what is separating them is Stringer's ability to organise and accelerate Sale's attack when the Sharks have good attacking territory. I need to crunch the stats properly but at a cursory glance Sale's passing numbers increase substantially with Stringer on the field as opposed to Cusiter with the number of kicks in play from the scrum-half position decreasing at a similar rate.
There's plenty of talent coming through the Sale pipeline at the moment - James Mitchell, Ciaran Parker, and George Nott are all current or former England U20s representatives - but Cameron Neild is a player I have my eye on.
With rumours abounding of Tommy Taylor's possible departure to Wasps and Neil Briggs's up-and-down form since returning to the club this summer, 21-year-old Neild could very well find himself starting hooker elect next season.
Whether it would get to that should Taylor leave I'm not sure, but Neild has represented England at every age group so far and has also already turned out for Sale at openside flanker giving him a second avenue into Sale's first team proper. Extremely athletic and mobile, Neild encapsulates much of the 'new breed' model of rugby players and will likely be a matchday 23 regular by next season, regardless of whether Taylor stays or goes.
Granted I have not heard any concrete information on the matter, outside perhaps of ex-Sale prop Mick Collins' Twitter feed but all indications seem to suggest a potential sale of the club is being sought by Brian Kennedy.
For all the good he does in keeping the club afloat - for which he must be commended - Kennedy now lives in the USA and rarely attends home matches. It doesn't take a genius to estimate that Sale Sharks are no longer his no.1 priority.
Anybody have Sheikh Mansour's number?
Well when a Mummy and a Daddy aren't sure if they love each other anymore but want to preserve their marriage..
Lewis Hughes is aware that his article introductions are getting shorter each week. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions.
For the third consecutive Premiership round Sale Sharks threw away valuable points as they once again failed to convert substantial territory and possession into a deserved victory, losing 23-19 to Gloucester on Friday night.
One conciliatory losing bonus point is far from indicative of the performance the Sharks produced live for BT Sport, with this trip to Kingsholm the latest in a worrying pattern of Sale dropping Premiership points in games they really ought to have won.
Two Sione Kalamafoni tries in the space of six minutes (the first coming, criminally, whilst Sale had a man advantage) was to prove decisive as Sale could only muster three points in response once Gloucester had gone 23-16 up.
Particularly worrying was that the Sharks were once again unable to come-from-behind and secure a win despite being the superior team. Seriously, when was the last time Sale were able to turn around a deficit with less than 20 minutes left to play to emerge victorious? A hallmark of great teams is their ability win games right at the death, but that clinical edge is noticeably lacking, and has been for years, for a Sale team that is clearly better than their 13 points in six games suggest.
Sale will now take an extended break from Premiership action with a home-and-home series against Castres in the Challenge Cup hopefully providing some relief from a trifecta of disappointing Premiership results. The Sharks played well enough to win all three of their games against Harlequins, Newcastle and Gloucester in the last month, but instead gained only a paltry four points. Perhaps its time to re-focus the club's efforts on making a run at the Challenge Cup.
Lewis Hughes is growingly increasingly frustrated with Sale's inability to kill off games they deserve to win. Follow @SharkTankRugby for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
On Sunday, The Rugby Paper ran a piece suggesting Sale Sharks hooker Tommy Taylor is set to leave the club when his contract expires this summer for a lucrative £170,000-a-year contract with Wasps.
This is a rumour that has gained considerable steam in the previous few weeks with the EggChasers Rugby Podcast also suggesting a deal had been completed – the same trio, it is worth noting, were also the first to report Brian Mujati was in talks with Sale over the summer.
For full disclosure I have absolutely no information on the rumour's validity. Unfortunately Taylor’s possible exit would be only the latest in a worrying trend that has seen Sale lose a multitude of young, talented players with legitimate international aspirations to larger and wealthier clubs in recent seasons.
Just to twist the knife that little bit more, it would once again be Wasps set to benefit from Sale’s years of nurturing their players from local amateurs to full-blooded Premiership stars, with the former already having plucked Rob Miller and James Gaskell (and Kearnen Myall and Simon McIntyre) from Sale since 2010.
Sale, as a smaller Premiership club with low revenues and match attendances and an inability to pay up to the salary cap, have seen a bevy of their young stars leave in recent years for greener pastures all around the country, swept up in the allure, ambition, and financial might that the Sharks unfortunately cannot match at this time.
It is no understatement to say that the exodus of talented and marketable players is a serious problem which threatens the long-term viability of the club. That Sale have done such an unbelievable job in replacing the likes of Luther Burrell, Henry Thomas, Matthew Tait, Michael Paterson et al. with comparable players and continuing to compete for a top-six spot on an annual basis, despite their shoestring budget, is a testament to the entire club, but is only a temporary solution. Until Sale can retain their most promising talents and supplement the team around them with international additions, it is hard to envision the Sharks ever coming close to repeating their title-winning exploits of 2006.
An increase in crowds is first and foremost the most desirable solution, especially now that the commendable job of making the AJ Bell an easily accessible venue has been completed, but unfortunately it is hard to build an aurora of positivity around the club when the team's stars leave en masse every couple of years for the glittering South (or Midlands).
So here we stand again. This time with Tommy Taylor, arguably the fourth-best Hooker in the country at tpresent and somebody knocking furiously on the door newly inscribed with Eddie Jones’ name.
Taylor is a budding star, there’s no other way around it.
A physical but intelligent operator on the field, those who have watched Sale since the Maxonian made his debut for the club in 2011 know Taylor possesses all of the attributes to become a star for both club and country. A smooth lineout orchestrator, committed ball-carrier and the ‘leader of the gang of those young lads at Sale’ according to Steve Diamond, Taylor has been one of Sale’s most consistent performers over the last year-or-so, coming back superbly from a career-threatening knee injury to supplant Marc Jones as Sale’s first-choice hooker (although Jones’ previously agreed move to Bristol may have admittedly played a part in that).
To quote Mr. Diamond once again, losing Taylor ‘would be a disaster’; not just for what the 24-year-old brings on the field but the potential knock-on effect it could have on the latest group of Sale first teamers with dreams of running out at Twickenham – namely Ross Harrison, Josh Beaumont, Will Addison, and Mike Haley. It’s a scary proposition to think what position Sale could find themselves in in as little as two years time if all five chose to uproot and leave the club upon the culmination of their respective contracts.
Yet should Taylor leave, one cannot blame him. Forging a living in a game where a single hit could end your career instantly is incredibly tough and if Wasps truly have made him an offer that is likely more than Sale could hope to ever table, there is absolutely no justification to begrudge Taylor for seeking the most for himself and his family.
And this is only in terms of money, Wasps can also offer huge crowds and a place in a team being built to challenge for domestic and European titles whilst Sale currently languish in mid-table.
As much as we Sale fans would love to cry ‘injustice’, it is simply market forces and the opportunity to beat Toulon in front of 15,000 fans that could coax Taylor away from Manchester. We should not blame Sale, Wasps, or even the RFU who certainly do not encourage the notion that you have to play south of the Midlands to be picked for England, should Taylor ultimately leave.
Instead, we should blame Premiership Rugby.
The Premiership board of directors might not have conspired to steal a Sharks player away from the club, but the measures taken in response to the investigations of possible salary cap breaches earlier this year that saw no disciplinary action taken and the salary cap actually raised as a result, will only serve to further increase the plucking of the smaller clubs’ academy products by teams with the financial might to annually challenge for the title.
The ruling made by Premiership Rugby to increase the league-wide cap to £7million and to add a second cap-exempt ‘marquee player’ is already proving to be driving a further wedge between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the English game. Sale simply do not have the luxury of either an owner with seemingly bottomless pockets (Bath and Saracens) or the geographical location to be the only club of real interest to the surrounding sporting aficionados (Northampton, Exeter), and therefore are being blown out of the water by their rivals’ ability to sign the Jamie Roberts-es, Louis Picamoles-es, Charles Piutaus, and Luke Charteris-es of the world.
But it is not just the capacity of the larger and richer Premiership clubs to attract world-class players that will cause an end to any semblance of competitiveness in the English Premiership. The increased salary limit will allow the likes of Wasps and Northampton to further pad out their formidable playing squads with (to them) supplementary players who formerly comprised the first teams of Sale and other lower mid-table clubs. Unfortunately, such instances are already in place and are only going to get more extreme – how frustrating is it to see Rob Miller, Kearnen Myall, and Luther Burrell occupy spots on the replacement benches of some of Sale’s closest rivals with the knowledge they would have guaranteed starting places had they remained at the AJ Bell?
Would I feel the same if the Sharks were magically bought up tomorrow by the uber-riches of Sheikh Mansour? Of course not. But I am happy to admit my hypocrisy and acknowledge the historical examples of Sale conducting the very same business with the likes of Newcastle and Leeds/Yorkshire Carnegie. It is because of this that we can understand exactly why Tommy Taylor could move to Wasps next season, it’s just an unfortunate and inescapable element of professional rugby.
But Premiership Rugby, with their dubious handling of the salary cap fiasco and protection of the league’s elite clubs, have facilitated a further exacerbation of the problem that plagues any club not able to challenge for playoff and top-six honours every season.
If Sale are to lose a third English player under 25 to Wasps in three years, do not blame the Sharks - who I believe are currently in contract discussions with Taylor and Will Addison - for being unable to stem the tides of the modern rugby market.
Also do not blame Taylor for taking an opportunity nearly all of us would take ourselves given the chance. Do not even blame Wasps for seeking to strengthen their squad with a talented young player to match their future ambitions.
Instead, blame Premiership Rugby, whose actions will prove decisive in opening the transfer floodgates for the affluent clubs the league caters to.
Let’s just hope we don’t see Josh Beaumont’s name in The Rugby Paper next week.
Lewis Hughes would like to see Tommy Taylor remain at Sale Sharks. Follow @SharkTankRugby on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.