Sale defend Springbok recruiting system
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Sale Sharks coach Steve Diamond had mounted a staunch defence to those who critic the club’s strong South African contingent.
Sale Sharks, who has moved up to second place in the Premiership, are now targeting the first trophy for 14 years against Harlequins in Sunday’s Premiership Rugby Cup final at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Next weekend’s showpiece decider may not the most important in English rugby, however, it offers the Manchester club the chance to blow the dust off their trophy cabinet.
The Premiership side’s recent success has to be credited to their solid recruiting process which saw them sign several South Africans over the last years.
World Cup winner Lood De Jager was the latest Springboks to sign for the side. De Jager joined fellow World Cup winner Faf de Klerk and other Springboks Robert, Dan and Jean-Luc Du Preez, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Akker van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen.
While South African-born Jono Ross has been leading the Manchester side.
Revelling in his team’s success, head coach Diamond believes critics of his Springbok recruitment drive are just green-eyed.
“Three years ago the investors came in and I said it would take us three years to get top four and that is what has been done,” Diamond said.
“We were under the salary cap for seven years and are still under this season. To some people, we are seen with a green eye, but we get the best value for money. I still average 16 English players in every 23-man squad – fact.
“We put a lot into the Cup and we have a home final and it shows just where we have come from and where we are. There will be a sell-out crowd on Sunday, which is big for us.
“The best marketing tool is our team. The ship canal runs alongside the stadium and the fans would swim across that to watch us at the moment.
“We are playing a good brand of rugby, are second in the Premiership and our stadium holds a bit of fear for some teams. The next three weeks with the Cup final, Quins away and then Exeter could be a definer for us.”
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With more room to manoeuvre with their roster, Exeter centre Sam Hill will shortly be confirmed as Sale’s latest signings.
And while Saracens pair Vincent Koch and Nick Isiekwe will not be arriving at the club’s Carrington training facilities, it is understood that Diamond is looking to bring in forwards from Argentina and Russia instead.
With De Jager making his debut last weekend in the rout of London Irish, Diamond’s South African contingent is now complete and the Sale director of rugby excepts to be able to put out his first-choice XV in around six weeks due to players coming back from injury and others who have to be rested due to the game time they have already clocked up for club and country.
“I know what my first-choice XV is,” insisted Diamond. “It is very exciting and I’m pretty sure that team will be put out in the next six to seven weeks.
“For the first time I have a squad that means I can rotate players which I never thought I would do. I always thought rotation and rest was an excuse not to pick players but look at our back row options. We have five players who have played maximum minutes and they need to be rested.”
Sale off-loaded England wing Chris Ashton last week to cup final opponents Harlequins but while the mid-season timing seems strange, Diamond insists his team’s play-book and important calls will not be compromised.
“It’s a one-off game and last time we played them in a final they put us to bed in 2013,” he said about facing a Quins side beaten 28-15 at Bristol last weekend.
“People throw caution to the wind in this kind of one-off and have a lot to do, but Tom Curry and Mark Wilson are back from England duty. Rohan Janse van Rensburg is a week or to away with his hamstring and there is a doubt over Akker van der Merwe.”
By Chris Jones, Rugbypass