Apologies to those who submitted questions for the last Feeding Time which unfortunately never materialised. Anyway, following an excellent 29-23 victory over Harlequins at the weekend which leapfrogged Sale over the South-West London side into 7th and with two tasty clashes against Northampton and Wasps on the horizon as your context, here's the latest edition of the Feeding Time mailbag.
Honestly, with the way Sale have played since everybody had to go out and buy new calendars, nothing would surprise me. The 2016 iteration of the Sharks are playing with a confidence and conviction not seen since the title-winning season and one feels despite the prospect of having to travel to both Franklin's Gardens and the Ricoh Arena in back-to-back weeks, Sale could easily leave both games with something.
However being the pragmatic soul I am, its hard to envision Sale winning either game. Northampton are rounding into form after a slow start to the season, and despite missing a handful of internationals, will not be as severely weakened as Saracens, Leicester, Exeter, or Harlequins were in Sale's victories over them. Wasps meanwhile appear to be the form team in Europe and a dazzling backline of game-changing talent gives them the ability to employ one of the few strategies the Sharks don't match up well against.
This is a long way of saying I think Sale will get a losing bonus point at Saints on Saturday, but I have a sneaking suspicion Dimes, like last season, will use the trip to Coventry to rest a few key starters, especially with the back-to-back with Bath a few weeks later, and Sale won't get anything out of that game.
Neild himself said last week on Rugby Union Extra that he still seems himself long-term as a hooker despite predominately featuring at openside flanker for Sale this season. Long-term Neild will be Sale's starting hooker, but next season, with the arrival of Rob Webber as an experienced Premiership player capable of immediately filling the void left by Tommy Taylor, and Dan Braid transitioning to coaching, I believe Neild will see most of his minutes rotating with TJ Ioane at openside flanker much like this season.
That said, I do believe there will be an increase in the time Neild spends at hooker as well and I can envision when Dimes opts for extra backrow firepower on the bench (Lund or Pearce), Neild would be preferred to Neil Briggs as Webber's replacement.
Look, I'm not as down on Ryan Lamb as some Sale supporters I know, and I would have no problem if he was brought in as a backup next season to spark the offense in the last 10 minutes or relieve our #1 starter from playing too many minutes.
But should Cipriani's replacement as the Sharks incumbent fly-half next season be a 29-year-old who's already played for five out of the current 12 Premiership clubs, I'd be mightily disappointed as a supporter of the club.
Cipriani was one of the few bona fide stars Sale had capable of changing a game on a whim. He wasn't perfect, but he was a top-tier player who won more games for Sale than he lost. Should Sale replace him with a journeyman whose skill levels don't come close to matching Cipriani in any facet, it would suggest Sale's espoused ambitions of top-six and top-four finishes are empty.
In the front row Sale look set for the next few years; Ross Harrison, James Flynn, Ciaran Parker and Jake Pope are all coming through whilst in the second row George Nott has represented the England U20s for two consecutive years. He'll make the move up next season as a fourth/fifth option depending on whether Sale eventually sign another lock to their existing stable.
The backrow is definitely where Sale are weakest. Cameron Neild looks set to continue rotating with Ioane and Seymour for next season however eventually he'll move full time to hooker. David Seymour and TJ Ioane are only 31 and 26 respectively which means both should still have a number of years at the top, as should Josh Beaumont (22) and Laureance Pearce (25).
I would imagine said stable of five players (not including Magnus Lund and Mark Easter, should he be re-signed) will make up Sale's backrow for the forseeable future. Andy Hughes and Liam Parfitt have both featured for the Sale first team in recent seasons although neither has made enough of an impact to warrant further consideration.Matt Rogerson, a number 8, who joined the club this season following his graduation from Loughborough University is one name to keep an eye on however.
I wouldn't be opposed to introducing a bonus point system but I completely understand the concerns people hold regarding the possibility of a Six Nations winner who has only won four of their five games all with bonus points, triumphing over a team that does the Grand Slam but without any bonus points.
If a system could be structured in order to remove such an inequality, I'd be for it.
If we presume that Ostrikov is indeed away on international duty with Russia, conventional logic indicates that Bryn Evans and Jonathan Mills will start. I would expect Sale to bite the bullet and opt for no second row cover against Northampton, knowing Magnus Lund or Mark Easter could do a very brief job at lock if absolutely necessary. However personally, I would use this opportunity to give George Nott his Premiership debut with 15 minutes off the bench especially as it would give Sale a sense of whether he could be a tangible option for the Sharks with a number of games closely packed together next month, and rotation a must.