Ed. Matt Ferguson returns with the second in his five-part series detailing the next generation of Sale Sharks players who spent last season out on loan. The first report can be found here.
TOM MORTON – FLYHALF – 20
Tom Morton was one of four Jets out on loan last season who have been capped for England under-20s, making an appearance in the 61-0 thrashing of Italy in 2015. Having already represented England’s under 18s and regional age-grade teams, it is clear that he is well-rated within the national set-up. Yet to make his senior Sharks debut, he spent last season on loan at Fylde in the National League One, following a small spell out with Macclesfield in the 2014/15 season.
At Fylde, he made 8 appearances, of which 7 were starts. He was not utilised as a front-line goal kicker, successful with 7 conversions from 11 attempts (64%) without attempting any penalty kicks. Against Ampthill, he converted his sole try for the season, and knocked over 3 further conversions in the reverse fixture. The remaining 3 conversions were made in a tight loss against Cinderford.
Indeed, Fylde struggled with Morton at flyhalf, winning just 1 game out of the 6 that he started at 10. However, this may be more a reflection of Fylde’s overall indifferent season than an indication of the impact of the young flyhalf. On a positive note, Fylde won the solitary game that Morton started at fullback, against Wharfedale, which hints at a good level of versatility in Morton’s game.
For Sale Jets, he started all 5 of their fixtures at flyhalf, scoring 23 points (1 try, 3 conversions, 4 penalties), including an excellent 16 point haul in the comeback win over Newcastle A. It is evident that Sale have a great deal of faith in Morton going forward, opting to sign only two first-team fly-halves after the departures of Danny Cipriani, Joe Ford, and Nick Macleod last season, leaving the academy product as third choice 10. Coupled with the fact that there is virtually no cover for fly-half in the rest of Sale’s back division (I recall that James and Haley have some experience there in age-group rugby, but nothing at senior level), Morton is all but guaranteed to be training with the first team squad throughout the season and providing cover in case of injury.
However, don’t expect to be seeing much of Morton, as the incoming AJ MacGinty and Dan Mugford will each want plenty of time to prove themselves as the first choice fly-half at Sale. Spot starts and LV Cup appearances will be Morton’s main avenue of contribution in 2016-17.
JOHN O’DONNELL – WINGER – 23
John O’Donnell is a really interesting player, as anyone who has watched him play can agree. He is so interesting that it looks like Sale may not have his services for the upcoming season: over this summer, he has been playing for Ireland’s nascent Sevens side, and in reports has been contrastingly referred to as “Sale’s John O’Donnell” and “former Sale winger John O’Donnell”. For the sake of simplicity and completeness, I decided the write this report regardless.
Watching O’Donnell play, his rugby league background is very obvious, in both his style of ball-carrying and the raw physical skill he possesses. In the Premiership Sevens tournaments, he has displayed a potent combination of speed, abrasiveness and guile while on the ball, but perhaps adapting to the tactical side of wing play in union has proved more of a challenge. Last season he scored an impressive 7 tries in 16 games for Sale FC in the National League Two (North), a sharp improvement on more muted spells with Preston and Doncaster the season before. As well as his exploits for the lesser-known Sale rugby outfit, he scored a match-winning last minute try in the Jets’ narrow win over Newcastle A, his only score in 5 appearances for the Jets this term.
Unfortunately for John, time is not on his side, given that most top flight wingers are expected to be somewhere near their peak at his age, and certainly be in contention for a first-team spot although there are, of course, exceptions (cough Nev Edwards cough). If O’Donnell has left the club to play for Ireland’s Sevens side, it will be a big loss to the wider Sale Sharks community, the winger picking up the prestigious Aviva Community Player of the Season award for his tireless voluntary work over the last year.
LIAM PARFITT – FLANKER – 20
Liam Parfitt is another player yet to make his debut for Sale’s senior side, but appearances in all 5 of Sale Jets’ games this season may serve to indicate that he is not too far away from receiving a chance to impress. Similar to Morton and O’Donnell, Parfitt was also part of Sale Sharks’ 2015 Premiership Sevens squad, making a number of impressive tackle-breaks and offloads in those fixtures. Capped for both England’s under-16 and under-18 sides, he turned down a professional contract with rugby league’s Warrington Wolves to sign for Sale, and spent last season on loan with Huddersfield in National League One.
A key member of Huddersfield’s squad, Parfitt started 17 games, mostly at blindside flanker but also making starts across the rest of the back row. Unfortunately, Huddersfield finished bottom of the pile and were duly relegated, but Parfitt’s performances stood him out as a player, often mentioned in post-match reports and managing 3 tries from the back row over the season.
During the course of researching this post I found an article suggesting that Parfitt had signed for National League One’s Macclesfield. It is unclear whether this is an early announcement of a dual-registration deal, or some other loaning agreement that gives Sale the ability to call up Parfitt for either Jets or senior games, but it is most likely that Parfitt will be playing for Macclesfield on a full-time basis and leaving the Sharks entirely.
If true, this is a big shame, as the England call-ups suggested that Sale had a genuine prospect on their books, and the Jets showings further indicated Sale’s interest in Parfitt. Perhaps the Sale set-up have one (or should that be two) eyes on the Curry twins, both capped at England under-18 level in the back row and by all accounts considered the brightest talents to have come through the academy in several years…
MATTHEW POSTLETHWAITE – LOCK/BLINDSIDE FLANKER – 19
Without wanting to tempt fate, I can thankfully find no such confusion over Postlethwaite’s club situation, with the highly-rated forward firmly remaining a Shark/Jet for the upcoming season, if Sale’s club website is to be believed.
Postlethwaite, yet to make his senior debut, made 3 appearances for the Jets last season, all at lock, and began his time on loan at Sale FC turning out in the same position. He found a home at blindside flanker, however, stringing together a run of starts for the National League Two (North) side, before reverting back to lock in the late-season as fellow loanee Andy Hughes added to Sale FC’s depth at flanker. All told, Postlethwaite made 14 starts and 10 appearances off the bench, scoring against South Leicester early in the season.
Such is Sale’s depth at lock that Postlethwaite presumably slots in as the club’s sixth choice behind Bryn Evans, Andrei Ostrikov, Jonathan Mills, Lou Reed, and George Nott. Postlethwaite, like several of the Jets, has turned out for England under-18s, and is entering his final year of eligibility for the under-20 side. I do fully expect him to spend next season back out on loan, hopefully at a higher level than National Two (North), but would not be entirely surprised if he made England’s under-20 squad, and/or made a brief cameo in Sale Sharks’ LV Cup games.
GEORGE NOTT – LOCK/BLINDSIDE FLANKER – 20
Speaking of George Nott, the Welsh-born second-rower has certainly had a summer to remember. In the World Rugby Under-20 Championship he started every game of England’s storming run to the title, and was honoured with a place in the official team of the tournament as a blindside flanker.
A dominating line-out presence throughout the tournament, and offering huge effort in the tight, he looks equally comfortable at either blindside flanker or lock, which bodes very well for Sale. His stand-out moment actually came just 8 minutes into England’s first game of the tournament, as he galloped in to score from 60 metres out on turnover ball, completely outgassing the helpless Italy defence. If he can ally that natural fitness to the traditional skillset of a blindside flanker, Sale could potentially have the next Tom Croft on their hands.
Nott’s promise was identified very early by Sale, who handed a debut to the then-19-year-old in a European Champions Cup game against Munster in the 2014/15 season. That year, Nott spent time on loan with Chester, and remained at the club for the 2015/16 season, making 12 appearances, of which 9 were starts. His game-time at Chester was limited by both the under-20s Six Nations, in which he made 4 starts, and a call-up to Sale Sharks’ match-day 23 against Newport Gwent Dragons in the European Challenge Cup. He didn’t make an appearance that day, but continued to train with the first-team squad as the fourth choice lock after Josh Beaumont suffered a season-ending injury. He also started all 5 games for the Jets at lock, which hampered his ability to represent Chester more frequently.
Next season, I suspect Nott will break through into the first team squad, making a similar impression to James Mitchell or James Flynn this last season, being eased into the match-day squad and being given a chance to impress. I doubt he will set the world alight, as he continues to add bulk in order to cope with the physical demands of Premiership rugby, but locks do not normally mature until their mid-to-late twenties so there is no rush to get him involved. He may well be given game-time at blindside flanker, as he offers a completely different game to Cam Neild, TJ Ioane or Laurence Pearce, but I suspect that Diamond sees him long-term as a second row, given Sale’s lack of depth in that position.
Next week, I’ll be going slightly off-piste thematically, mixing in reports on some players who are not officially Sale Sharks (according to the squad page on the club website), but who did make appearances for the Jets over the last year. Those players are Shaun Strudwick, Forbes Edwards and Brendan Berry, who will feature alongside reports on Matt Rogerson and another England under-20 cap, Jake Pope.
A couple of notes: the ages shown are the players’ ages on the 1st September 2016, normally the start of the Premiership season, and all statistics are compiled from rugby.statbunker.com and the relevant organising bodies (ERC, PRL, etc). Also, the term “loan” is used where “dual-registration” may be more accurate, for the sake of brevity.
Matt Ferguson is surprised that he managed to spell Postlethwaite correctly more than once. His Twitter can be found here.
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