N.B. Apologies for the recent inactivity on the site. The paucity of articles is due to increasing amounts of university work in the run up to the exam period , which I hope can be appreciated as my foremost priority at this current time. Said workload is also why I am amalgamating the three pieces of Sale news this week into one 'megapost'. A schedule of upcoming articles focusing on the end of the season will be published in the next few weeks.
It's been a busy week for Sale Sharks.
The biggest news, coming on Thursday morning, was that the Sharks have agreed to sign Welsh scrum-half Mike Phillips from Racing Metro 92 on a one-year deal.
Phillips is the most capped scrum-half in Welsh history having amassed 94 caps since his debut in 2003 before retiring from international rugby after last year's World Cup. He also featured on both the 2009 and 2013 Lions tours to South Africa and Australia respectively, serving as the first-choice half-back on both occasions.
With Phillips turning 34 by the time the season starts I'm reasonably confident in saying that a repeat of the form that saw him start on two consecutive Lions tours is unlikely during his first season in Manchester, but irrespective, I think this is yet another astute acquisition by Steve Diamond and the Sharks braintrust.
Phillips, needless to say, will bring a wealth of invaluable experience of the top levels of global rugby to the club, but more importantly, due to his unorthodox physique for a scrum-half (he stands 6ft 4" and a shade under 16 stone), he will bring a dominant physical edge to the fringes of the ruck that Sale's other scrum-half Peter Stringer cannot offer.
Regardless of whether Stringer or Phillips begins the season as Sale's incumbent no.9 (although my inkling is that it'll be the latter who gets the nod), acquiring Phillips gives the Sharks an intriguing combination at the position that should allow them to take a more varied approach to their backline depending on their opposition on the day.
Against bigger and more hard-nosed opposition (i.e. Saracens), Phillips gives Sale the luxury of operating almost as a fourth back-rower due to his ability to make powerful breaks from the base of the ruck alongside his playmaking duties. Meanwhile, against sides where speed of service is the key to unlocking defences, Peter Stringer will get the nod to start.
Next season's platoon at scrum-half therefore should result in a much more heterogeneous style of attacking play allowing Sale to change their stratagem on the fly should they find themselves struggling to break down the opposition's defensive line.
Finally, James Mitchell might be the luckiest scrum-half in the entire Premiership; the 21-year-old is now understudy to two of the most renowned names in world rugby with a combined experience of 192 international test appearances. I'm expecting big things of James Mitchell in 2017-18.
In other news, the signing of Phillips was necessitated by the announcement that Chris Cusiter will retire at the end of the season to pursue a whiskey business in Los Angeles. Whilst 33 is nowadays considered slightly young to be announcing a move away from the game, the 70 cap Scottish international has struggled with the notoriously prickly issue of concussion this season and has presumably taken the decision to step away from the game in order to preserve his health beyond the end of his rugby career. Plus who wouldn't want to live in LA?
Speaking of premature retirements, Thursday also saw news that flanker/No.8 Mark Easter was likewise choosing to quit professional rugby, in this instance to pursue a teaching opportunity in Shropshire.
Whilst it is understandable to want to retire on your own terms rather than being forced out due to injury or lack of opportunity , Easter's retirement - whilst heavily rumoured beforehand - still came as quite a shock.
Easter has produced arguably some of his best rugby in a Sale shirt this season compiling a number of exemplary performances as a replacement for incumbent Number Eight Josh Beaumont who has missed the latter half of the season with injury.
Still we wish both Chris and Mark all the best in their future endeavours and thank them for their service to the club.
In a final piece of news, it would appear that the construction of the squad for next season is still not fully completed. Neil Leigh reported on Thursday that there is still one more signing to be announced and Steve Diamond revealed on BBC Radio Manchester that he is still pursuing a third fly-half and a back-row.
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