Sale Sharks kick start 2019 with epic signing. But will they make the play-offs?
BY Ruaraidh Britton
Signing Faf de Klerk until 2023 is more than a slightly belated Christmas gift for Sale fans, it’s a Christmas miracle of epic proportions.
And there are plenty of worse ways out there that a team could start their 2019, but signing one of the five contenders for player of the year is huge for Steve Diamond and the club. But can Sale hold on and push their northern powerhouse to new heights in the second half of the season?
We’ve seen De Klerk ignite the Premiership for two years, and he has been a real pleasure to watch. His pace and high tempo play, coupled with his ability to bring down the colossal figures of the back row has been exceptional, and watching him bring down Nathan Hughes in the South African series against England was quite simply outrageously good.
For Sale to cling onto their five foot seven playmaker is a massive statement of intent from Manchester’s finest, and their backs are certainly to be feared now their vital artery has been protected. And it’s not just De Klerk who’s been bringing tears of joy to the eyes of Sharks fans.
Seeing Chris Ashton back in form has been a sigh of relief for Diamond, after the downer at the start of the season when he was suspended for a dangerous tackle in a pre season friendly. You only sit and begin to imagine how much higher in the table they’d be if their versatile winger had been in action from the very start, and his return has that extra importance given Marland Yarde won’t be seen wearing the blue of Sale for a while after sustaining a knee injury.
It’s not just the guys out the back of the field putting in a big shift in a Sale jersey however, as the forwards have been seriously impressive despite the team sitting in seventh in the league. Josh Strauss’s monstrous ball carrying ability got him back in the Scotland set up, Jean-Luc Du Preez has been electric since joining the side, and the Tom Curry has certainly earned his right to wear the rose in recent months.
Kingsholm has proven to be one of the tougher venues to play rugby this season, with Gloucester sitting in third in the table after an impressive first half of the campaign. Sale had no right to go and get a win last weekend; they didn’t just get a win, they humiliated their rivals with a 30-15 victory.
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That scoreline that tells so you much about how Sale have adapted to this years competition. A bonus point win can lift you from a relegation dog fight in tenth, all the way to the glitz and glam of the play offs, with a fourth place reward for your efforts. That’s just how close this season has become, and Sale looked like they were destined for a horrid spring, with Newcastle, Worcester and Bristol all set to battle it out to stay amongst England’s elites. But if anyone has reversed their fortunes and told the experts to stuff their predictions, it’s Sale.
There’s a long way to go until May, with trips to Franklin’s Gardens and the Ricoh arena, and visits from the Chiefs and the Tigers to deal with before the seasons out. But play the way they are with a restored confidence and swagger and what’s stopping them challenging the likes of Harlequins and Gloucester for a play-off place? Northern rugby needs a boost similar to Newcastle’s heroics last season; it’s all in Sale’s hands this time round.