It's the question that has been on every Sale supporter's lips since last Tuesday; how do Sale go about replacing their Wasps-bound starting fly-half?
In my report of Danny Cipriani's announced intention to leave the Sharks at the end of the season to return 'home', I noted that despite Cipriani's generational attacking instincts and vision, the one area keeping the 28-year-old from adding to his 14 England caps is his sub-par place kicking, which he then vindicated by missing all four of his conversion attempts against Worcester the following Saturday.
As previously stated, losing Cipriani will be a massive blow to Sale Sharks for a plethora of reasons, but if Sale can find a replacement who can kick 75%+ of his attempts at goals and bring some semblance of attacking vision and creativity to a Sharks backline that is becoming ever less reliant on individual magic to win games, Sale can be as good, if not better with a new fly-half pulling the strings in 2016-17.
With Director of Rugby Steve Diamond promising to scour the globe in search of a 'big name' replacement in the aftermath of Cipriani enacting his break clause, the suspicion is neither Joe Ford or Nick Macleod will be the long-term successor Cipriani's no.10 jersey when the new season begins in September 2016. Similarly, Diamond's statement that nobody in the academy is ready to assume full-time fly-half duties suggest former England U20 prospect Tom Morton is likewise not as seen as an immediate substitution.
So using Diamond's criteria (a 'big name' player, preferably English, something of similar ability/value) let's take a trip around the rugby sphere and identify who Sale could lure to the North-West for next season.
Probably the best option on this admittedly narrow list, Northampton Saints fly-half Stephen Myler would be a fantastic coup for Sale. A former rugby-league player born in Widnes, Myler's name has been touted with a possible return to the North of England for a number of seasons now, and although there's no indication he's ever seriously contemplated a move from the Midland, the temptation to return 'home' has proven to be an enticing factor in recent weeks.
Myler would bring mounds of experience to a young Sale backline along with some title-winning prestige having steered his Saints team to glory in 2013-14. Most importantly however, he would offer Sale the consistent kicking boot that they do not possess with Cipriani. The trade off, of course, is that Myler does not possess the attacking instincts of Cipriani (who does?) but with the change in strategy implemented by Paul Deacon's arrival, this probably wouldn't be much of a detriment to the Sharks' current gameplan.
After four seasons of the 'maverick' Cipriani, a steady and dependable fly-half like Myler could mark a nice change for Sale.
In recent weeks, it has been heavily rumoured in The Rugby Paper that Welsh international Rhys Priestland and current club Bath are seeking a mutual separation following Priestland's u-turn on his decision to have a sabbatical from international rugby.
Sale and Bristol have been pinpointed by Neil Fissler as being the two sides most inclined to take Priestland off Bath's books, however there comes some risk should the Sharks win the hypothetical race for the former Scarlets man.
First and foremost, Priestland is a current Wales international on a hefty (reported £290,000 p/a) contract. Not only would Sale have to splash out a lot of money for Priestland, but he'd also be unavailable for a sizeable chunk of the Premiership season. Furthermore Priestland, although marginally superior to Cipriani, is not of the level of place kicking that Sale require to close out the tight matches that have eluded them in recent years.
That said, Priestland is an exciting attacking talent with considerable pace, able to both attack the line and move the chains. He also has substantial experience of playing at fullback, a position Sale are desperately short at beyond 21-year-old Mike Haley.
I'd envision Priestland very much as a high risk / high reward signing.
Jimmy Gopperth/Ruaridh Jackson
Last week Dimes made a very pertinent point regarding Cipriani's future (old) club Wasps. With their signing of Cipriani, Wasps now have three quality fly-halves to split playing time between - Cipriani, current incumbent Jimmy Gopperth and Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson - an unenviable situation that will surely lead to one of the three expressing discontent over (a lack of) playing time.
Could Sale therefore effectively do a like-for-like swap with Cipriani's future employers?
Jimmy Gopperth would be an ideal signing, an extremely strong kicker who has also shown plenty of attacking intent and creativity as part of a rampaging Wasps attack this season. That said, he'd also be the perfect compliment to Cipriani's more mercurial playing style as a 1-2 punch at Wasps so the likelihood of Sale tempting the New Zealander away from the Ricoh is slim.
Ruaridh Jackson, meanwhile, appears to be the odd-man-out in Coventry ahead of next season but he has many of the same traits that could ward Sale off from signing Priestland - namely possible international duties and less-than-ideal kicking percentages. Again, he has fullback experience and the creative mindset to flourish as a regularly starting Premiership fly-half but it would be another risky signing for Sale, especially considering Jackson's lengthy injury history.
Perhaps the most intriguing name on this list is 22-year-old Ospreys fly-half Sam Davies.
Firmly behind Welsh superstar Dan Biggar at Ospreys, Davies - although he's centrally contracted with the Welsh Union - could be tempted by a big-money to the Premiership akin to George North or the aforementioned Priestland, especially as those examples have shown crossing the border no longer inhibits a long and productive international career.
Davies has been one of the star performers in both this year's Pro 12 and European Champions Cup competitions including a sterling, match-winning performance against Clermont last month.
Investing in a 22-year-old as the future of such an important position would of course be a substantial risk, but the possibility of securing the signature of one of Wales' brightest young talents long-term (who has already featured 68 times for his region), especially before he reaches full international honours, is an enticing prospect.
Rumoured to be a short-term replacement following Diamond's comments that Cipriani could leave now if Wasps bought him out after a poor performance in the loss to Worcester, the Lamb-to-Sharks rumours emerged Saturday evening after a number of supports noted Diamond 'having a long conversation' with the Warriors fly-half.
First of all, I dispute the notion that Sale would be in a better position this if Cipriani was sent off on 'gardening leave'. Although I can understand the concerns that Cipriani's heart/head may no longer be with playing for Sale considering his impending egress, I point to Tommy Taylor and Vadim Cobilas' continued exemplary performances despite their respective upcoming departures to suggest it would be foolish to think Cipriani will not continue to give his all until the end of the season, especially considering his international ambitions.
By extension then, I do not believe Sale would require the services of Ryan Lamb, even in a short-term capacity. He distributes well, and has experience orchestrating quality attacking play, but his place-kicking is similarly iffy
and he wouldn't constitute the quality and consistent performer Sale need to rebuild themselves into a top-six team.
Lewis Hughes believes, in order of preference, Sale should sign Myler, Davies, Gopperth, Priestland, Jackson, Lamb. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.