On February 6th 2014, Sale fans received official confirmation of a rumour long feared - James Gaskell (and Rob Miller) were to leave the club at the end of the season and join (then) London Wasps.
Gaskell, despite being only 23 at the time, had enjoyed a long and illustrious career at Sale Sharks that stretched from 2008, encompassing 97 appearances and selection in both the England U20 and England Saxons squads. Additionally, the Crewe-born forward was named Sale's club captain for the 2010/11 season making him the youngest player in Sale Sharks history to hold the honour at only 20 years of age.
Gaskell initially emerged from Sale's academy as a Lock, however as the team evolved and changed around Gaskell they struggled to replace the cult figure of their former bruising No.8 Sebastian Cabal following his departure in 2009. With the failed additions of Sisa Koyamaibole and later Andy Powell over the following two years, Gaskell increasingly began to start games as a No.8 due to Sale's lack of other viable options in the back row.
With a game built more on speed and finesse as opposed to a more traditional power and brute force approach, Gaskell was an incredibly unorthodox figure as a No.8. However as time passed he became increasingly effective in the position especially as Sale were able to partially build their scrum, forward strategy and lineout around Gaskell's unique talents.
Although it was never an ideal fit, Gaskell at No.8 (he also served as lineout captain) was an integral part of the revitalised Sale team that escaped relegation in 2012/13 and the one that defied the odds to force their way into last season's top-six against more heavily-favoured opponents.
So when it was confirmed early last year that Gaskell was to leave Sale to join rivals Wasps with a view to a larger wage and enhanced England international opportunities, it came as a huge blow for both the Sale faithful and the Sharks organisation who had nurtured Gaskell from his amateur days at Sandbach into one of England's premier young talents.
The most pressing concern for Sale from then onwards became: who was to replace Gaskell as Sale's starting No.8 from this season? This became even more problematic when Sale DOR Steve Diamond failed to bring in a positional replacement off the market ahead of the 2014/15 season.
As the season neared, Sale's prospects at one on the most important positions in rugby looked bleak. They had at their disposal; Mark Easter, a steady and defensively well-rounded flanker-cum-No.8 albeit with nowhere near the attacking prowess of his brother - the type a team needs for a top-six push, Michael Paterson, another flanker with minor experience as a No.8 from previous club Cardiff Blues, who, upon arrival at Sale the year before had been immediately converted to a Second Rower by Steve Diamond and Pete Angelsea, and Vilhami Fihaki, the most logical candidate for the starting berth being an out-and-out No.8 who had been capped by his native Tonga at the position in early 2013 but who had featured only sporadically since arriving in November 2013 for reasons known only to one Mr. Diamond.
They were a trio of players, all capable of playing the Number 8 position to a competent level but all three, for a myriad of different reasons, were never going to challenge the likes of Billy Vunipola, Ben Morgan or Serge Parisse for excellence and domestic success at the position.
Enter Josh Beaumont.
I will admit that the few times I was able to watch Josh Beaumont in a Sale shirt before this season, I saw plenty of positive areas to his game but was worried that Steve Diamond was going to waste his talents in a foolhardy attempt to convert him to a backrower.
The Beaumont I saw upon his promotion to the Sale first team from the 2012/13 season onwards was someone with incredible potential in many areas of the forward game, but someone who was best suited to succeed as a Lock in the Second Row - his mastery of running the lineout and expectational physical ability in the tight and in the air were apparent immediately.
But used as a No.8 in Sale's ill-fated Heineken Cup run in 2012/13 and indeed the twenty or so minutes in his only appearance in the 2013/14 season against Wasps before tearing the ligaments in his foot, I was less impressed with Beaumont.
Beaumont was too slow from the back of the scrum and in the loose, he possessed neither the foot speed of a more agile No.8 (like Gaskell) or the brute power and tackle-breaking ability of a Billy Vunipola to compensate. Added to that was a lack of ability to keep a hold of the ball in contact or when running lines. Beaumont's future I believed, was solely at Lock.
At the beginning of this season, it was Mark Easter who was handed the starting berth at No.8. To his credit, Easter played with the determination and levels of effort that are hallmarks of a consummate professional. However it became apparent to those watching Sale throughout September and October that Easter was not a viable solution at No.8 for this season, never mind long-term. For all his energy and desire, Easter's ten or more carries a game were often for nought as he was perpetually unable to punch a hole in the defensive line. Defensively he excelled as ever, but Easter, in a team sorely lacking in ball-carrying forwards, failed to make an impression over the course of the first seven or so rounds of the season as Sale floundered to a below-average start domestically.
It was an LV Cup game and an opportunity to rest Sale's Premiership starters at the beginning of November that began Beaumont's meteoric rise from a rarely-seen academy graduate to one of the first names on the Sale team sheet in a span of less than three months.
On that day - a 32-29 victory over Wasps - Beaumont, starting at No.8, was the star of the show. Playing with poise, vision and power with ball-in-hand and producing a startling display of line-out and tackling efficiency, Beaumont also scored a wonderful individual try to cap a Man-Of-The-Match performance to help lead a youthful and rotated Sale squad past a much deeper Wasps team.
In that single game, Beaumont showed that the year-long lay-off had only made him a better, more rounded and smarter rugby player. He showed glimpses of everything that Sale so desperately needed, and what Mark Easter had failed to deliver as a No.8 during the season's infancy - ball-carrying ability, vision, strength and a commanding presence in leading the lineout.
From there, there has been no looking back for either Sale Sharks or Josh Beaumont. A week later he was given the starting berth again, this time against London Irish in the Premiership and the former England Students' captain once again played an integral role as the Sale pack utterly annihilated the opposing Irish forwards.
Building off the back of his first two performances this season for Sale, Beaumont has become an essential component of a resurgent Sale team and gameplan, having yet to relinquish the starting berth he won back in November. Since then, Beaumont has also stepped up to take on the role of running the lineout in Michael Paterson's absence to greatly improved results regardless of whether he is playing at No.8 or Lock.
Contributing to Beaumont's increasing importance within the Sale team is his versatility within the pack. Often, Steve Diamond has opted to bring off a tiring second rower for either Magnus Lund or David Seymour, sliding Beaumont into the second row and utilising the 'three 7s' system to shut down opposing teams when holding a lead. It's this versatility that has meant Beaumont has yet to be substituted for Sale in games he has started this season and it affords Steve Diamond a gluttony of options for shuffling the squad around either in game or beforehand.
Beaumont's stellar performances were rewarded shortly before Christmas with the signing of a two-year extension to remain at Sale until 2017 (along with another breakout star of the season, Mike Haley) and it is not hard to envision Beaumont being a key building block for Sale and Diamond as the Sharks squad changes over the next few seasons. There is already talk amongst some Sale fans of Beaumont replacing Dan Braid as team captain at the end of the next season when Braid is likely to retire and such praise is certainly not unmerited especially with Beaumont's experience leading the England Students team at Durham University.
What does the future hold for Beaumont and Sale? There is talk of Josh having been in serious consideration to be picked for this year's England Saxons squad despite only appearing in seven Premiership games in his career and despite missing out this time, a continuation of his impressive form could certainly see him play his way into contention for England's RWC squad later this year.
On a domestic scale, the arrival of Samoan international TJ Ioane from the New Zealand-based Otago could see Beaumont being moved to second row a lot more frequently in the future with Ioane's preferred position being anywhere across the back row.
Ioane is touted as being utilised most effectively as something of a 'super sub' for Sale, being able to be brought off the bench and make an immediate impact as a ball carrier as games progress and opposing players tire. Therefore expect to see Beaumont being moved around a bit more towards the end of games, especially alongside Nathan Hines in the second row. Beaumont's importance to the scrum and the lineout dictate that he will play the full 80 minutes at every opportunity and both his and Ioane's presence on the pitch simultaneously will give Sale two exciting ball-carriers.
The ability and promise Beaumont has flashed in only a handful of games for Sale this season suggest that massive things are in store for the former Flyde man. There is a genuine belief emerging around the league that Josh Beaumont could feature prominently for the English national team the same way his father did 30 years ago should his exemplary form continue. Domestically, Beaumont is locked down with Sale for another two-and-a-half seasons and figures to continue to play a huge part in the Sharks' success going forward. Beyond that, it is not outrageous to suggest that Beaumont could one day be leading the Sale team out onto the pitch as club captain, the same way a certain James Gaskell did five years ago.