Continuing the spate of good news emanating from Sale Sharks this week was the announcement that last season's standout performer Bryn Evans has signed a new three-year-deal with the club.
Evans was a relatively low-key acquisition by Steve Diamond last season, brought in from a relegated Biarritz in France to bolster Sale's second row depth hit by the losses of Michael Paterson and Nathan Hines. However Evans immediately entrenched himself as one of the Sharks' most integral players, turning in a magnanimous season that saw him earn plaudits as one of the most effective locks in the entire Premiership.
Winning the Players' Player of the Season award was a testament to the impact the twice-capped All Black had in his first season in Manchester but particular attention must be placed on his ability in the lineout.
With Evans operating as the main receiver (and lineout captain after Josh Beaumont's season was ended prematurely), Sale's set-piece was the Premiership's most efficient in 2015-16, winning an outstanding 92% of their own throws with Evans the jumper for 33% of the Sharks' 258 total lineout wins.*
Furthermore Evans also proved myself as the league's most disruptive players - his 16 lineout steals comfortably lead the Premiership last season. His turnover on the Sale try-line against Northampton to kill the game back in October also proved a particular highlight in a superb season marked by exceptional consistency.
As I wrote about on Monday pertaining to Josh Beaumont and Mike Haley's new deals, this is once again a testament to the progress Sale are beginning to make under their new ownership.
Evans was, at times, irreplaceable for Sale last season and will continue to be so next season as Sale's undisputed first-choice lock. Ensuring, therefore, such an important player with a multi-faceted impact on the entire Sale stratagem has been locked-up long-term (before the season has begun!) is another clear indicator that the Sharks are intent on doing whatever it takes to keep the 'core' of the squad intact and now have the means to take the initiative early in the season and prevent an exodus akin to in previous seasons.
Now attention turns to either Will Addison or TJ Ioane. If Steve Diamond is able to lock those two up on similar long-term deals, the most important retentions Sale have to make for the sake of competitiveness will have been completed well before the new season has even begun. An exciting time indeed.
*Statistics courtesy of UK Rugby Stats (http://ukrugbystats.co.uk/AVIVA-PREMIERSHIP-STATS-2015-16)
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