While the top half of the table may have been the aim last season, new Sale Sharks skipper Josh Beaumont believes his side are ready to mount an assault on Aviva Premiership Rugby’s top four 12 months on.
Steve Diamond’s side boasted an unrivalled home record last season, going unbeaten at the AJ Bell Stadium until their final home match of the campaign against Gloucester Rugby.
But having also drawn two of their home encounters and lost out with the last kick on more than one occasion, there is plenty of room for improvement for newly-appointed captain Beaumont – who had to watch on from the sidelines at the end of last term with a dislocated shoulder.
And the England prospect insists there is no way Sale will be resting on their laurels in the coming months, with an Aviva Premiership semi-final spot very much within their capabilities.
“When we set our goals at the start of last season, we were very much aiming for a top-six spot and Champions Cup rugby qualification, and we got that,” he said.
“But it definitely felt like we left a lot of points out there – there’s at least ten Aviva Premiership points we could have got from games, and if we’d had those we’d have been in the top four.
“So that was a huge frustration for us, but at the same time it gives us something more to aim at for this year. Top four is very much the aim.
“Our home form is notoriously strong, so if we keep that and really work on our away form there is no reason we can’t do it.
“It’s massively important we get ourselves into the top four early on. If you just look at the two finalists last year, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs, they were one and two for the majority of the season.
“That just shows how important the start is. You never want to be playing catch-up, so looking at the first month for us is working out how to get the amount of points to get us in that top four.”
Despite seeing the likes of Danny Cipriani and Tommy Taylor exit the club in the summer, Diamond has recruited well in Wales legend Mike Phillips, Aviva Premiership Rugby veteran Rob Webber, and Pro12 winning fly-half AJ MacGinty.
And Beaumont is confident the blend of youth and experience will serve the Sharks well heading into this season.
He said: “It happens at clubs, you lose guys sometimes. But the players that have come in have looked really good so far, and mixed really well.
“The likes of Rob Webber and Mike Phillips bring so much experience to the group as well, having been capped a huge amount of times between them, which can only help.
“Then at the other end of the scale you have younger guys like AJ MacGinty. He is a very different player [to Danny Cipriani] but a hugely exciting one.
“It is only his second year in professional rugby really, and to see what he did in his first with Connacht you have to wonder how far this guy can go.
“He’s looked really good in preseason; he’s a great leader as a No.10, and his goal-kicking is right up there as well so hopefully it all falls into place for us.”
The Aviva Premiership Rugby season kicks off this weekend. For a full fixture list click here.