52 minutes into Sunday's Sale-Clermont game a curious substitution occurred. Sale's No.8 Mark Easter was substituted for returning captain Dan Braid, an openside flanker. What was most curious however was that Sale already had two flankers on the field in Magnus Lund and David Seymour and Steve Diamond opted to move Lund to No.8, a position most unfamiliar for someone who has spent his ten-year career predominately playing as either a 6 or 7.
The final 28 minutes of a game in which Sale were well and truly beaten by one of the most dominant teams in French rugby and had a pack receding at a rapid rate every time play stopped for a scrum is not the best opportunity for Magnus Lund to showcase his abilities as a No.8 but Diamond's decision to utilise "Maggie" in that role was something that struck a chord with me, hence this article. Could Magnus Lund be the solution for Sale's black hole of production at No.8 so far this season?
Currently Sale's starting No.8 is Mark Easter, a player who is excellent defensively with an incredible enthusiasm and workrate but who is below-par in most other aspects, namely as a ball-carrier, unable to break through tackles or spot defensive gaps to surge through. Mark Easter is a defensive open-side flanker in a team filled with them and he offers nothing with ball-in-hand to warrant his continued selection at No.8. Easter is a squad/rotation player at best, not a Premiership-standard No.8 and certainly not a European level player. But I have lamented Mark Easter enough so far this season.
Sale's other option at No.8 is Vilhami Fihaki, the Tongan international brought to Sale in November of last year who for whatever reason appears to be in Steve Diamond's doghouse, incapable of securing a starting berth despite, in vastly limited opportunities, displaying a more dynamic attacking option than the incumbent Easter. So if Fihaki isn't an option for reasons unbeknownst to everyone but Sale's coaching staff, does Lund's move to 8 last weekend indicate a new way of thinking for Diamond?
On reflection, Lund could very well do a job at No.8 for Sale. He is no Steffon Armitage and make no mistake about it Sale could really do with an Armitage-like bulldozer at 8, but consider the other options at Sale's disposal and Lund begins to look a very attractive option. Lund is a capable ball-carrier with good height, strength and pace who, despite being used in the defensive "two 7s" role in Diamond's system has shown more attacking flair and incisiveness than Mark Easter has as a No.8 this season. Also working in Lund's favour is that he is a very tidy player, well-disciplined, a tackling machine and makes few errors either with possession or without. Perhaps most importantly however, would be that shifting Lund to No.8 would allow Sale to employ all three of Dan Braid, Dave Seymour and Maggie Lund at any one time which would reap massive benefits at the breakdown where Sale would be nearly unplayable and around the edges of both the scrum and ruck.
You would be hard-pressed to find any Sale fan who would disagree with the statement that Lund has been the best of Sale's summer signings this season especially in Dan Braid's absence and moving him into a role which would see him get continued game time even with Braid back and Dave Seymour in wonderful form is a very interesting idea for Diamond and Sale to pursue.
For what it's worth I still think giving Fihaki or even Michael Paterson (who has become an even more prominent part of Sale's attack this season regularly lining up on the wing with Sale in possession in the opponent's 22) an extended run at No.8 are both more traditional and 'fail-safe' options but I cannot say I am not intrigued by the idea of Lund lining up at 8. Easter is not giving Sale enough at the position and Fihaki does not seem to be a fixture in Diamond's plans so why not Lund?
Looking ahead to Sale's weekend clash against Wasps in the first round of this year's LV Cup, one would expect to see a big degree of rotation in Sale's starting lineup considering the frequency with which many first-team regulars have been used this season.
I would anticipate Eifon Lewis-Roberts, Vadim Cobilas, Michael Paterson, David Seymour, Danny Cipriani, Tom Arscott, Johnny Leota and Tom Brady all to be rested in some capacity which should also allow opportunities for some of Sale's lesser-used and academy players to feature.
I predict we will see Darren Fearn, James Flynn, Andrew Hughes, Charlie Ingall, Phil Mackenzie all for the first time this season whilst Cameron Neild, Josh Beaumont, Vilhami Fihaki, Nathan Fowles, Joe Ford, Andy Forsyth could be in line for their first starts this season.
Additionally, look for some of Sale's players returning from injury to also play in order to regain match fitness, Dan Braid, Mark Cueto et. al.
With all that considered here is a reasonable guess at Sale's 23 to take the field on Saturday:
Fearn, Mamukashvili, Harrison
Braid, Fihaki, Hughes
Cueto, Jennings, Forsyth, Ingall
Bench: Di Marchi, Neild, Flynn, Paterson, Lund, Fowles, McLeod, Mackenzie
Anything else to suggest Shark Tank Rugby covers? Don't agree with Magnus Lund as a No.8? Comments and tweets to @SharkTankRugby are welcome and appreciated!