Pending confirmation on a possible extension for Andrei Ostrikov aside, it looks as if the re-signings of Magnus Lund to a two-year extension earlier today has concluded Sale Sharks' internal contract discussions for this season. Now the focus at Carrington will have turned to next season and recruiting from outside the club.
Over the last 12 months, coinciding with the switch of kickoff times to Saturday afternoon and participation in the European Champions Cup, Sale have enjoyed an increase in home attendances and a larger media profile which has also buoyed the club's coffers. All of this has apparently lead to owner Brian Kennedy giving Steve Diamond the green-light to invest in the squad, at least that is what Danny Cipriani alluded to in the interview following the announcement of his contract extension.
Both a positive and a negative, Sale's squad for the 2015/16 season has so far seen relatively little turnover. The positive is that, unlike in recent years, Sale have managed to retain the vast majority of their burgeoning home-grown talent including breakout stars Josh Beaumont and Mike Haley as well as their key first team members - Danny Cipriani, Dan Braid et al. Additionally, Sale's only outgoing first-team members (details here) are all, arguably, replaceable, especially with the emergence of some of Sale's academy players such as the aforementioned Beaumont and Tommy Taylor.
The negative however is that there has been absolutely nothing announced from the club in regards to players joining the Sharks for next season onwards for over a month with Neil Briggs the only player announced so far to be (re)signing for 2015/16. This is especially disconcerting with it now being March and relatively late in both the transfer and playing season, and with many of Sale's rivals making serious statements of intent with the players they've brought in for next season. Harlequins' signing of former Wallaby captain James Horwill and London Irish's capture of All-Black Prop Ben Franks and Scottish international Sean Maitland come to mind.
And whilst I unfortunately have nothing to offer in terms of news about players joining Sale for next season, I can speculate on which areas of their squad Sale will look to recruit for, for the upcoming 2015/16 season. The good news is Sale are only three or four players away from being genuine play-off contenders, so long as the players they recruit are of top-class ability.
*FYI the hopelessly optimistic proposals are just that - hopelessly optimistic and not who I can envision Sale signing, although one can dream.
Probably the most pressing need for the Sale squad next season, Sale cannot keep relying upon Vadim Cobilas to play 80 minute games in the Premiership if they are serious about mounting another assault on the top-four/six next season. Ross Harrison could eventually turn into a stalwart at the position but his conversion to the opposite side of the scrum is still a long way off. Some genuine quality to relieve Cobilas off the bench and spot-start in the LV/ECC is desperately needed and should be Sale's top priority for next season.
Hopelessly optimistic possibility: Owen Franks
This is slightly more difficult to predict. If Andrei Ostrikov leaves (and there are substantial rumours that he is off to France at the end of the season), Sale will likely need at least two locks for next season. Both Jonathan Mills and Nathan Hines are on the wrong side of 30 and are currently the only two locks in the Sale first team squad (please keep Josh Beaumont at No.8, Dimes). If Ostrikov stays, Sale will still need another lock although that need is less pressing with England U20 star George Nott likely to make his first-team debut next season.
Another position that is difficult to predict what Sale will do with, the imminent departure of Will Cliff to Bristol Rugby has raised serious questions regarding Sale's options next year. Chris Cusiter's international career with Scotland is likely to be nearing its end with his omission from their matchday squads in this year's Six Nations so that should not be a barrier for Cusiter to play the brunt of Sale's games as starting scrum-half next season. However behind Cusiter Sale desperately lack Premiership experience. Do they stick with what they have and employ promising but raw prospects Nathan Fowles and James Mitchell as Cusiter's backups or do they move for an experienced nine to give their England U20s an easier transition to regular Premiership duty?
Realistically suitable target: Peter Stringer
This one is more cut-and-dry. Mark Cueto is hanging up his boots on a fourteen-year career at the end of the season and it is unlikely either Phil Mackenzie or Charlie Ingall are retained beyond this season. Sale currently have Tom Arscott, Will Addison and Tom Brady as first-team wingers, Mike Haley at fullback and Luke McLean able to cover both positions. If McLean is utilised more next season as a left wing - a position for which he has shone for Italy in this year's Six Nations - then Sale will certainly need another fullback to compete with Haley for the no.15 shirt. If Diamond sees McLean more as a fullback next year, then Sale will need to recruit another wing especially if questions persist over Will Addison's fitness and Tom Brady's defence.
Realistically suitable target: Tim Visser
Feel there are any positions that need strengthening that I have overlooked? Get involved with the comments below or tweet me @SharkTankRugby on Twitter.