NB: As you may have seen on Twitter the last couple of days, I've been canvassing opinions on starting a semi-regular mailbag/tweetbag feature where readers send their questions in and I answer them, probably in a serious manner. With an overwhelmingly positive response to the idea (71% of those polled said they would be interested in contributing questions for the column) I believe I now hold a sufficient mandate to get more articles like this off the ground. The frequency of this column will depend on a number of mitigating factors, not least the amount of questions I receive, so if you have anything you'd like answered here on the blog be it about Sale Sharks, general rugby, or anything else you can think of, do get in touch either on Twitter @SharkTankRugby, via email (button in the top right) or through a comment on the blog. Anyway time to delve deep into the very first Shark Tank Feedbag:
It emerged via Sale's press day on Tuesday that Cusiter has been ruled out of Friday's fixture at Harlequins due to failing a concussion protocol so the question has now been mooted somewhat. However that said, had Cusiter been available there should have been serious doubts about him starting. Three times vs Northampton Cusiter was at fault for taking his attention away with the ball present at the back of the ruck which allowed Saints the opportunity to turn the ball over - an absolutely unacceptable mistake to make at the top level, never mind three times in forty minutes. The ex-Scotland international made up for it somewhat in the second half with a far more assured performance but there has to at least be some scrutiny placed on his spot in the starting lineup after that performance, especially considering Peter Stringer's assured performance in relief of Cusiter after he was concussed.
Simon however is obviously on the ball in regards to keeping up with the news coming out of the Sale camp. The Challenge Cup is an interesting conundrum for Sale this season and the manner in which they approach it I think will be defined by their position in the Premiership. The allure of the automatic Champions Cup sport reserved for the Challenge Cup winners could become very tempting for Sale and encourage them to invest all their energies and resources into winning the tournament should their domestic form begin to slip. That said I think a balance needs to be struck between rotation and strength; it wouldn't kill Sale to have both Vilhami Fihaki and Josh Beaumont playing in the first team together against Pau or Castres and giving the likes of Mark Jennings or Andy Hughes the chance to run lines with Danny Cipriani, but only if it isn't at the detriment of their Premiership form, at least until their reachable ambitions within that league have been clarified.
My predictions for Sale, which haven't really changed despite the encouraging start to the season that has seen them won two out of their first three games, can be found here. I am also in agreement that Sale do need a playmaking centre to give themselves the ability to alter their gameplan on the fly should their preferred method of employing the Bosh Brothers in the midfield be proving ineffective. Sale simply can't afford to be a one-dimensional team in a league populated by teams with larger squads with more flexible and fluent personnel to fit a multitude of strategies and that means having another creative force alongside Cipriani in the midfield.
Which leads us neatly onto the next question. And my answer is absolutely Joe. I have been saying for a long time now Sale's attacking ability would be optimised by having a balance between brawn and physicality and playmaking and 'footballing' ability. James vindicated me perfectly on Sunday showing how beneficial it can be to have an extra member in the backline capable of producing that little bit of game-changing magic out of nowhere alongside somebody who is able to power through defences to create the space for the former. Whether Sale are better balanced by having James play outside of either Sam Tuitupou or Johnny Leota I am not sure but James did not put a foot wrong the entire game vs Northampton and certainly deserves to retain his spot on Friday.
I still think Sale are at least a winger short of having a fully-rounded squad so let's say Julian Savea. Probably a little out of Sale's price range but who wouldn't love to see the New Zealand winger at his destructive best in the Premiership? Talk about a game changer in the backline..
With Cusiter out of the lineup Mitchell is guaranteed at least a bench start and probably 20 minutes on the field against Harlequins. I would be very tempted to see how he fares with a starting role in a fortnight's time against Pau however, ideally behind a relatively full strength pack and flinging passes to Cipriani to evaluate how he could fare in a 'true' first team matchup. Mitchell needs to get at least a handful of starts this season and as long as Sale keep rolling in the Premiership and Cusiter is unavailable, Mitchell should get his chance in Europe in two week's time.