I have no doubt in my mind that I will stumble upon this very article a year or so from now and be ashamed of how widely I shanked my predictions, but as with meaningful rugby still four-or-so weeks away and a number of people on Twitter suggesting I do so, what better time to make some predictions for Sale Sharks’ upcoming 2014-15 season.
SALE TO FINISH 7TH IN THE AVIVA PREMIERSHIP
Initially I wanted to say that I believe Sale will finish somewhere between 6th and 9th, as I see them firmly entrenched in a battle for the last European Champions Cup Rugby spot (6th place) with Wasps, Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs. However vague predictions are next-to-useless and 7th seems a realistic finish for Sale this season.
A key reason for this will be Sale’s participation in the inaugural ERCC tournament which will undoubtedly stretch an admittedly small squad to its limits and a six-game series of games against European heavyweights Clermont, Munster and Saracens could easily have ramifications for Sale’s Premiership campaign. A similar fate befall Exeter last season who finished 9th after competing in the last-ever Heineken Cup in 2013-14.
That said, last year Sale handily finished eight points ahead of their closest rival Wasps and with Wasps also competing in the ERCC after winning a two-leg Play-off against Stade Francais it is reasonable to expect both teams to regress slightly. And with Gloucester likely to experience growing pains as new coach David Humphreys undertakes a rebuild of the club after Nigel Davies’ departure and questions surrounding Exeter Chiefs’ youthful contingent’s ability to develop into key first-team players, there is no guarantee Sale will slide that far down the table. With all factors considered I think Sale will regress enough to drop out of the automatic European spots but no further than 7th.
WILL ADDISON WILL GO THE FULL SEASON INJURY FREE
Perhaps the biggest “what if” for Sale the last few seasons has been “what if Will Addison could stay healthy”. Addison burst onto the scene at the end of the 2011-12 season with a spectacular try for Sale against Harlequins and in the few appearances he has managed to make since has shown cutting edge attacking skill and finishing ability like here against Saracens and here against Worcester (he is who provided the cross-field kick to assist Cueto's try.
Addison has a rare combination of pace, hands and kicking ability (as seen in the above clips); a combination of skills that Sale have not seen in an Academy product for many years. Able to play Outside Centre, Wing and Fullback it is not yet known how two successive season-ending injuries will have affected Addison’s blistering pace or indeed what position he is most suitable for now. Addison has the talent to be a first-team regular; it is just keeping him on the field that has been the problem.
Regardless of where Diamond chooses to employ him this coming season, Addison’s versatility will be incredibly valuable for Sale especially if Luke McLean is called up for Italian international duty or injuries occur and with Sale’s official site claiming that Addison is back to full fitness, I predict a very successful and injury-free year for the Cumbrian-born back.
SALE WILL HAVE MULTIPLE PLAYERS IN ENGLAND’S SIX NATIONS SQUAD
Barring a complete collapse in form, I think it is highly likely that Danny Cipriani will feature for England over the coming 2014-15 season, even if it is solely because he offers a different and unique skillset to the other Fly-Halves at Stuart Lancaster’s disposal.
But I do not believe that it will only be Cipriani representing Sale Sharks in the England Six Nations setup. Injuries and both poor and rich form respectively will offer another Sale Shark an opportunity to feature in the 2015 Six Nations. As to who it will be I have no idea, but front-runners are Michael Paterson and Ross Harrison who were both part of an extended England training squad earlier this summer and Tom Brady who, if he can continue his fine form from last year as one of two first-choice wingers that saw him named to the England Saxons squad earlier this year, has an outside chance of making his full international test debut.
My money is personally on either Paterson or Harrison because of their previous inclusion with England and England’s poor front-row depth, but another successful string of team performances could push a number of Sharks into contention.
DANNY CIPRIANI WILL RE-SIGN WITH SALE
Speaking of Cipriani, I do envision Sale’s first-choice number 10 re-signing with Sale before the season’s end. Much has been written and made of Cipriani’s redemption with England and so I will not go into it much apart from to say that Cipriani himself has said he partly owes his transformative re-birth both on and off the field to Sale and has publicly announced his willingness to re-sign with Sale if both sides believe they are on a similar path.
Whilst internet rumours suggesting a reunion with Wasps or a move to Harlequins do, unfortunately, make sense, I feel confident that Sale will do the utmost to re-sign arguably their most talented player and “Cips” will buy in to the competitive vision Sale are currently building towards.
THIS WILL BE MARK CUETO’S LAST SEASON
After an injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign, “Cuets” enjoyed something of a renaissance year last season, managing to stay largely injury-free and leading Sale in tries scored with nine in all competitions. However now 34, and set to turn 35 in December, this may very well be Cueto’s last season of Professional rugby.
Having signed a similar one-year contract extension before last year’s campaign, Cueto has opted to do the same this year and has repeatedly said a decision on his retirement will be made during the season. Whilst last year was an incredible bounce-back, Cueto suffered a number of niggling injuries that kept him out of key games towards the season’s end as one would expect of a 34 year-old winger despite the fact he has managed to refine his game so effectively.
One feels that one more serious injury could force Cueto out of the game permanently after a 15-year career spent solely with Sale Sharks and Sale’s big summer acquisition for the season after next could be someone to replace the Cumbrian-born winger.
Jonny May is an ideal target with a contract with Gloucester that is up at the end of this season, a connection with Sale’s Backs coach Bryan Redpath and would provide Sale with the international pedigree and talent that is needed to keep other star talents such as Danny Cipriani around.
Think my ideas are ludicrous or genius? Either way leave a comment on our comments page or Tweet us at @SharkTankRugby