With 10 of Sale's 22 Premiership games in the 2014/15 season in the books following their 18-11 victory over Exeter Chiefs last Friday; now was as good a time as any to hand out a few awards to the Sale squad as we hit the midway point of their season and the festive period.
Signing Of The (Mid)Season - Magnus LUnd
With Nathan Hines having spent the majority of the first three months of the season on the treatment table, Shalva Mamukashvili only spot-starting in relief of Marc Jones, Chris Cusiter's up-and-down form and Italian duo Luke McLean and Alberto Di Marchi largely proving to be busts since joining in the summer, it becomes an easy decision to nominate Magnus Lund as Sale's best signing of the season.
That's not to say Lund is simply the best of a bad bunch however, Lund has been in phenomenal form since re-joining the club from Biarritz, playing crucial minutes in both Dan Braid and Dave Seymour's respective absences; carrying and scrummaging well, putting in some fantastic breakdown work and regularly leading the team in tackles made (he's also currently the top tackle maker in the European Rugby Champions Cup). He's also regained his status as a cult figure at the club with his Norse God looks and leadership qualities.
Find Of The (Mid)season - Mike Haley
Another easy one - Mike Haley has been in scintillating form since being handed the #15 shirt in Sale's European fixture against Munster in mid-October. Haley, an academy player formerly of Preston Grasshoppers, has dazzled the AJ Bell with an unique blend of footwork, pace and confident running with ball in-hand. Frequently Sale's top metre-maker, Haley has shown no reason for big money summer signing Luke McLean to regain the vacated starting fullback slot and will surely play his way into England contention if he continues his strong form throughout the rest of the season.
Try Of The (Mid)season - Luke McLean vs Gloucester
In what was ultimately a losing performance; Sale produced a magnificent length of the field try vs Gloucester in Sale's second game of the season. Following a Gloucester infringement in Sale's 22, Danny Cipriani took a quick tap penalty before off-loading to Tom Brady having been tap-tackled from behind; Brady then slipped an inside pass to Luke McLean who raced away from the covering Gloucester forward to touch down in the corner. Video below at 0:39:
Disappointment Of The (Mid)season - Luke McLean
That moment of brilliance aside, the play of Luke McLean has been incredibly disappointing. Brought in to add a secondary playmaking option in Sale's backline alongside Danny Cipriani; McLean has in reality produced very little playmaking ability when in possession, unsure challenging for the ball in the air and an errant tackler, the latter two having directly lead to at least three tries conceded by Sale in games against Bath and Northampton. With the likely high salary paid for McLean's services as a fully-fledged international, it is hard not to see him as anything other than a disappointment, especially considering the aforementioned 20 year-old Mike Haley has looked like everything expected initially of McLean in wrestling the starting fullback job away from the Italian.
Player Of The (Mid)season - Danny Cipriani
As tempting as it was to put the always-great Dan Braid here, it would be unfair to exclude Danny Cipriani's influence on this year's Sale team. Often the line between Sale winning and losing in the Premiership and European competitions this season has been the play of Cipriani who's moments of individual brilliance and vision have served as a catalyst for Sale picking up a significant amount of points this season with four points at Newcastle away last month and Exeter on Friday night as well as two losing bonus points at Kingsholm in September all coming to mind. Cipriani has dotted down twice for Sale this year, with six additional try assists and 90 points and has once again improved his in-game management and tactical/territorial kicking to better fit Sale's system. A surprise omission from Stuart Lancaster's Autumn International squad despite repeated calls from the media for his inclusion, Cipriani's fine form in Sale's last four successive Premiership wins has once again pushed him well into England contention ahead of next year's Six Nations. Cipriani is having a second successive stellar season in Barton and there is growing optimism he will stay on with the Sharks even after his contract expires at the end of this season.