This morning, Sale finally revealed the identity of the mystery 'Southern Hemisphere forward' they had been linked to for weeks confirming that TJ Ioane, Samoan international and former Highlanders and Otago star, has joined the club with immediate effect.
Ioane, according to the MEN, has penned a deal with Sale until the end of the current season with an option to further extend his contract after the season concludes, a clause likely to be in the hands of the Sale coaching staff should the 25 year-old impress over the next five months.
So where does Ioane fit into the Sale squad?
Ioane's preferred position is that of blindside flanker which is where he got the majority of his playing time in Super Rugby, although he is also considered to be a 'loose forward' able to play anywhere across the back row. Indeed Ioane made his first two test appearances for Samoa late last year playing as an openside flanker against Canada and England.
Considering Sale's current set up, Ioane will most likely play a depth role, probably off the bench, providing cover for all three back row positions especially with Dan Braid's current recurring injury woes. His ability as a ball-carrier and surprising pace also makes Ioane a more apt replacement for incumbent No.8 Josh Beaumont should the latter be in need of replacement, and allows Diamond to move Beaumont to Lock giving Sale two powerful carriers playing simultaneously in the pack.
Was this the right move for Sale? Its hard to say. Ioane appears to be the type of quality depth/rotation option Sale fans have been crying out for since the start of the season and with Michael Paterson's injury, Sale have been bereft of strong ball-carriers in the forwards, something that has hurt the team greatly in the final quarter of close games. That being said, the back row is probably one of Sale's stronger points and although needing additions, it is not an area we desperately needed to add in the same way another Tighthead Prop is.
And what does this mean for Vilhami Fihaki? The Tongan No.8 was brought over in similar fashion in November 2013 but has been used sparingly since his arrival for reasons unbeknownst to everyone but the Sale coaching staff and has only featured once for the Sale first team this season despite the team's early season woes at Number 8. With over a year-and-a-half still left on his contract I would imagine Ioane's arrival unfortunately signals an impending release or a loan move for Fihaki.