After a season of progress without quite setting Aviva Premiership Rugby alight, Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond admits he is desperate to break into the top four this term.
The Manchester outfit improved by one place to finish sixth in the league last season, but will look back with some regret having gone down by less than a score on four occasions and drawing two games.
It has been all change at the AJ Bell Stadium with some high-profile names leaving the club, but several players have signed new contracts and Josh Beaumont, who has recently been involved in England’s Elite Player Squad, has been named club captain.
And Diamond is confident that the ambition of the club to perform domestically and abroad will see them get off to a flyer when they travel to Newcastle Falcons next weekend for their Aviva Premiership Rugby opener.
“I was frustrated last year as I felt we should have finished higher than sixth,” he said at the Aviva Premiership Rugby launch earlier this week. “There were three or four games we missed out on with last kicks in games, so a bit a skill let us down there.
“But generally in the grand scheme of things we’re always around the top six so we can build on that.
“A lot of the players have signed long term contracts with us as well, and their ambition is to play for England or their other national teams.
“The way to do that is by playing against the biggest teams in Europe, and we’ve drawn some big names in that competition which is exciting.
“We’re really looking forward to Newcastle next week. It’s a daunting task for us to go up there – we beat them at the end of last season but it’s all change and we’ll want to get our first win away from home.”
A lot will be made of the loss of Danny Cipriani and Tommy Taylor to Wasps in the summer, but it has certainly not been all doom and gloom for Sale in terms of ins and outs.
Wales legend Mike Phillips, Aviva Premiership Rugby veteran Rob Webber, and Pro12 winning fly-half AJ MacGinty have all arrived at the AJ Bell Stadium – not to mention Super League sensation Josh Charnley, who will join the club in the coming weeks – and Diamond remains upbeat.
He said: “That’s just the way that rugby goes. You lose a couple of players sometimes, and this summer we lost a couple of players to Wasps in Danny Cips and Tommy Taylor.
“But Rob Webber and AJ MacGinty have come in and the team is looking as strong as it’s ever looked in my opinion.
“You shake hands, say goodbye, and move on – I don’t get too distressed about it. I have altered the way we have done things a little bit, and now Mike Haley, Josh Beaumont, Sam James and Cam Neild have all signed four-year contracts.
“We have new investors, new owners, and the future looks bright.
“AJ is a really clever player. He understands the game and he is young as well.
“He can defend which is very important, he can kick is goals, and he can play to our structure, so I think he’ll be a fantastic addition to the Aviva Premiership.”