With Peter Stringer now 39 and Mike Phillips, currently only on a one-year deal at Sale and who turns 35 before the start of the 2017-18 season, both likely to retire at season's end and James Mitchell yet to set the world alight despite expanded first-team exposure this season, I fully expect Sale to have an entirely new partnership at scrum-half for next season.
One of Sale's biggest pitfalls this season has been the lack of pace at the scrum-half position - with neither Stringer nor Phillips quick enough to break around the fringes on half-way, opposition defences are comfortable spreading out at the ruck which in turn puts greater pressure on the Sale backline who find themselves up against a defensive line with more time to prepare positionally.
Any scrum-half Sale sign then needs to rectify the currently lack of line-break potential. At 29, Joe Simpson might not have the same step as a few seasons ago, but the Wasps' scrum-half is still game-breakingly quick and would also offer Sale some top-tier game-management skills that have come with ten years at the top level - he would be an ideal fit. Ruan Pienaar at Ulster would likewise have been an astute signing but has since been signed up by Montpellier.
With public knowledge of contracts and contractual situations at a premium in rugby, it is therefore hard to say excatly who Sale should (or could) sign, but a quick, attacking threat like Simpson backed up by either a talented prospect (say Sam Hidalgo-Clyne) or an experienced, tactical kicker (Pienaar) would be the preference.
Take your pick:
A large part of Sale's attacking woes this season have stemmed from a lack of familiarity between members of the backline which has been compounded by the losses of AJ MacGinty, Sam Tuitupou and Mike Haley for extended periods of time. This has started to change in recent weeks, but the lack of incisive, free-flowing rugby is a sympton of an inability to assemble the presumptive first-choice backs and have them train and practice together for long parts of the season thus far.
Furthermore, of the players Sale have to pick there appears to be a clash in styles. MacGinty hits the line himself too frequently and doesn't distribute the ball wide enough to bring in the players outside him. The second distributor in the line, Sam James, meanwhile is too isolated at outside centre to serve that particular role but on the occasions he has moved inside, Will Addison's enthusiasm to attack the line then off-load means once again the ball fails to reach the wingers with any frequency.
This mis-match of styles has been exacerbated by the apparent lack of attacking strategy in place - Sale have been guilty, on multiple occasions, of having an embarassing lack of shape in the backline with players not receiving the ball at pace or being too spread out to present themselves for an off-load on the rare occasion a line-break is made. Having a retreating pack and slow distribution from the breakdown has not helped matters but Sale need a full revision of the style in which they attempt to play.
Given the players they have at their disposal, a deeper attacking line that utilises Addison, Odogwu and Charnley's collective pace to beat players to the outside - an area where Sale do have an advantage on teams - would be a welcome start as would kicking wider but shorter behind defences to stretch the line out - it is currently far too easy for teams to stand off and let Sale simply pass the ball along the line before making the tackle.
As acknowledged in the Solomona piece which went up on Tuesday, his was a recruitment that began well back in Summer and is not seen as the remedy to Sale's current woes. Thankfully with the influx of new ownership, finally signing Solomona will not inhibit Sale from strengthing the team in other areas, which are of more pressing need than wing.
Reed is, to my knowedlge, currently fit and available for selection but has found himself down the pecking order since arriving over summer. Given the lateness of his acquitisation last season it would appear Diamond only sees (and only ever saw him) as a contingency rotation/depth option.
Lock and scrum-half.
Bryn Evans is fine as half of the first-choice pair (or in a perfect, Saracens-esque world as the first option off the bench) but his natural style of play as an athletic, predominately lineout option means he is best partnered with a much bulkier lock who can handle additional ball-carrying abilities and add some weight and power to the Sharks' scrum. Josh Beaumont is better suited to the backrow, Andrei Ostrikov does not appear to be trusted by the coaching for any extended period of time and Jonathan Mills does not have the ball-playing ability. Ironically Juandre Kruger, who of course renounced his commitment to join the Sharks earlier this year, is exactly the type of player the current squad is missing.
Erstwhile, for the reasons outlined earlier, Sale are being really hurt by the lack of pace and attacking threat at scrum-half and additionally by Mike Phillips' dsitributing style which is not suited for the backs Sale currently have at their disposal. Adding someone with individual attacking creativity (read: line-break potential) and a tendency for quick distribution would prove an immediate boon for Sale.
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