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Season Review: Sale Sharks

Season Review: Sale Sharks

The 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership Rugby season was one of steady progression for Sale Sharks.

Some would consider it a mixed bag, with several emphatic highs and a few troublesome lows along the way, but most crucially seventh position and qualification for the Champions Cup was secured.

That seventh place is one up from eighth at the end of 2017/18 and a huge improvement on the tenth place the year before – displaying Sale’s upwards curve perfectly.

There is genuine optimism at the AJ Bell Stadium about what could be on the horizon for the club, with director of rugby Steve Diamond having assembled a talented squad for next season.

Season summary

Seventh is actually a very good result when you glance back over Sale’s dreadful start to the campaign.

Four defeats in five against Harlequins, Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers and Wasps put the side in a precarious looking position and left many tipping them to be in a relegation scrap come the end of the season.

That they avoided this fate is a testament to Diamond’s ability to get the best out of his team when the chips are down, as the Sharks responded with a run of five wins in seven games which culminated in perhaps the result of their season as they beat Saracens 24-18 at the start of January.

In the process, Sale had bounced back from being bottom, to fourth at the turn of the year.

Away form was a constant concern throughout the season but home results, including a 28-17 win over Harlequins and 46-41 final day victory over Gloucester, meant Europe was achieved in the end.

Star moments

That win over Saracens is hard to top.

It was clinical, combative and comfortable – the complete performance with Rob du Preez’s exceptional game a particular standout.

Faf de Klerk’s exceptional role in Sale’s win over Harlequins in April and try-saving tackle against Harlequins is also hard to forget, the scrum-half stopping his opposite number Danny Care with a perfectly executed roll.

One that will also live long in the memory – AJ MacGinty’s long pass at the end of a brilliant flowing team move to set up Denny Solomona’s acrobatic finish in the victory over Gloucester on the final day. Attacking rugby at its finest.

Main men

Named Supporters’ Player of the Season for the second year on the spin, de Klerk enjoyed another brilliant year with his usual dynamism and aggression proving a consistent source of trouble for rivals up and down the land.

Captain Jono Ross was also in brilliant form, finishing the season with the most tackles in the league and providing good leadership to his ranks.

Wing Solomona scored 12 tries, the joint highest in the competition, and was a mightily impressive attacking outlet.

Breakthrough heroes

Land Rover Discovery of the Season award winner and England talent Tom Curry had a phenomenal season for club and country, with his work rate in defence and at the breakdown a key point of difference.

Curry finished the season with the most turnovers and, at just 20 years of age, it seems certain that the youngster has a huge international future ahead of him with the World Cup this autumn a massive chance on the biggest stage.

In for 2019/20

Diamond has brought in genuine quality as he attempts to vault up the table next season, with South African fly-half Rob du Preez returning alongside brothers Dan and Jean-Luc.

Jake Cooper-Woolley arrives from Wasps to strengthen at prop while there are three more South Africans in the form of hooker Akker van der Merwe, lock Lood de Jager and prop Coenie Oosthuizen also joining the ranks.

Sale are going to be one not to be missed next season.

Out for 2019/20

With new faces coming in, there have also been departures.

Wing Paolo Odogwu is off to Wasps, meanwhile experienced lock Andrei Ostrikov and prop Alexandru Tarus are heading to European outfits in the form of Grenoble and Zebre respectively.

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