Sale responded to the disappointment surrounding the announcement of Danny Cipriani's intention to rejoin Wasps in the summer, with news Wednesday morning that centre Sam James has re-signed with the club on a two-year-deal.
James, who turned out for Wilmslow High School and Manchester Colts before turning professional with Sale made a handful of first team appearances in 2014 before announcing his arrival proper with a superb individual chip-and-gather score for what turned out to be the decisive try in Sale's win over Northampton in November; only his second Premiership appearance:
This season, James has started all but one Premiership game for Sale, firmly cementing himself as the Sharks first choice Outside Centre with a number of impressive displays that have showcased his complete package of talents including passing, out-of-hand kicking, strength, and foot speed.
Although his defensive positioning and tackling could use a little refining, and he isn't the place kicker Sale require to replace the aforementioned Cipriani (despite many suggestions from Sharks' supporters), retaining James, even in his debut season, is an important get for Sale considering the 6ft 5 centre's eye catching form that has seen the likes of David Flatman earmark for future England international honours.
Indeed James has been one of Sale's biggest stories of the season with his vision, distribution and playmaking skills having brought an extra dimension to Sale's new-look attack as the second 'pivot' in the Sharks' backline. At 13, not only is James able to spread the ball wide to the likes of Will Addison or Mike Haley who have been more effective than in recent years due to the space and speed at which they are now receiving the ball, but James is equally able to control the game with adept out-of-hand territorial kicking or cut inside and play successful crash ball rugby by using his towering frame, see for example his try against Harlequins:
Despite his young age, James has been one of Sale's most consistent performers in what has turned out to be an up-and-down 2015/16 campaign and with Cipriani's exit on the horizon, the emergence of James as a second game-changing playmaker in the Sharks squad bodes well for the transition period next year and beyond. Although I fully believe he will be kept at Outside Centre for the foreseeable future, James' exciting and well-rounded skillset means he could easily rise to prominence as Sale's main creative force by the end of the season.
Although James' signature is now secure - at least for the next two seasons - questions still remain about the future of the current Sale backline. With Cipriani leaving and Chris Cusiter, Peter Stringer, Tom Brady, and Nev Edwards all out of contract at the end of the season, significant gaps are still apparent in the Sharks' back division. Answers however may be imminent:
Lewis Hughes would very much like to guest on Nathan Middleton's Rugby Union Extra show. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, opinions on all things Sale Sharks.