With announcements, I am told, on new contract renewals impending and Neil Leigh's article in last Thursday's MEN on this very topic, I thought it would be prudent to take a look at Sale's upcoming renewals and assess which of Sale's soon-to-be out of contract players should take priority in getting their signature signed on the dotted line.
First, here is a list of those Sale Sharks players that are definitely out of contract at the end of this season*:
*DISCLAIMER - there may be more Sale players with expiring contracts but those listed above are those I know for certainty are out of contract. Oh, the woes of being an independent blogger.
All seven of those players are key first-team members and hopefully all will be re-signed at some point over the coming weeks, but who's signature has to take priority for the good of the club? Here, I rank those with my own perceived slant of individual importance starting with..
1a) Danny Cipriani
The obvious choice, Danny Cipriani is a wonderfully unique player with genius and creativity few in the rugby world can match. Over his three years at Sale however he has also developed the more fundamental aspects of being a successful fly-half that eluded him earlier in his career including being able to play behind a weak pack and adhering to a stricter, more tactical gameplan under Steve Diamond that occasionally restricts his natural flair in favour of nose-grinding, tough rugby. Beyond that, Cipriani is one of only a handful of rugby players famous worldwide beyond the inner circles of Union, popular and incredibly marketable. Cipriani is (now) a massive positive for Sale both on and off the field and is an absolute must to re-sign.
1b) Michael Paterson
If Cipriani is Sale's number one priority this autumn, than Michael Paterson is more than just a close second. One of the most astute signings I've ever seen, Michael Paterson is second only to Dan Braid in terms of impact on the team made under Steve Diamond's tenure. What made Paterson such a fantastic signing and such an important player in the Sale Sharks team is his versatility and the fact he's so bloody good at everything. Paterson runs the lineout, tackles everything, wins turnovers, functions as an important cog in both the Sale scrum and rolling maul and is a deceptively good ball carrier, able to play anywhere from Lock to No.8. A consistent string of high quality performances both this season and last, has seen him gain recognition as a statistical darling of Opta, feature in multiple teams of the season 2013/14 and even play two games for England over the summer. Losing Cipriani would be the major news story of the off-season but a departing Michael Paterson may end up having the biggest effect on the Sale squad next season and beyond. Another must re-sign.
2) Tommy Taylor
Although yet to feature this season with a knee injury, Tommy Taylor is worthy of a long-term commitment. Why is Taylor ranked higher than incumbent Hooker Marc Jones? Having watched Taylor over the last two seasons since he made his Sale bow, Taylor is just as competent as Jones in the loose and the scrum, perhaps not with the same ferocity but equally as effective. But crucially, Taylor's accuracy at the lineout far exceeds that of Jones - a blemish on Sale's performance as a team this season - and considering Taylor is still only 23 and a legitimate contender for an England place in the 2019 World Cup, retaining Taylor just takes precedent over Jones.
3) Eifon Lewis-Roberts
With Alberto Di Marchi so far being a total bust of a signing for Sale and Ross Harrison working on a conversion to tighthead to back up Vadim Cobilas and further his own England aspirations, re-signing Eifon Lewis-Roberts even at 33 takes on added importance.
4) Tom Arscott
I'm a big fan of Tom Arscott and I love the high-energy game he brings on the wing and his form in the season's first eight rounds certainly warrants a new contract. But is he an absolute necessity to re-sign however? Probably not.
5) Marc Jones
Do not think Marc Jones' low rank on this list means I think any less of him as a player, Jones in this case is just a casualty of other areas of Sale's team being of added importance, especially with the emergence of fellow Hooker Tommy Taylor who I believe has the brighter long-term future at Sale. That said, I would jump at the chance to keep Jones around at the club for the long-term. A Taylor/Jones rotation at Hooker is amongst the league's best.
6) Andrei Ostrikov
A cult figure at the club and a valuable rotation player, Ostrikov, especially with Nathan Hines, Michael Paterson, Jonathan Mills and possibly Josh Beaumont ahead of him on the Sale depth chart, probably is the lowest of Sale's priorities over the next few months unfortunately. Again he is someone I would be remiss about losing especially with his bizarre try-scoring antics but other areas are just more important for Sale at the moment.