In Sale’s post-Steve Diamond era, no one really knew what to expect from a rugby union outpost written off season after season. But in their third year under former Saracens coach Alex Sanderson, Sale are one of two unbeaten sides in the Premiership and motoring along nicely.
With four wins from four, including over the likes of Exeter Chiefs and champions Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks have become predators of the league – overlooked by their opponents, at their peril.
This year is Sale’s best start to a Premiership season, having taken 19 points from a possible 20, and the first time that they have won their opening four games since 2008.
They have managed to overcome the loss of a number of their big-name South Africans, including Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager, and replace them with English talent and home-grown products.
They have brought in Red Rose duo George Ford and Jonny Hill – the former is returning from injury – as well as highly rated domestic star Tom O’Flaherty, on top of the headline acquisition of Manu Tuilagi in 2021.
The side are building a squad of depth and talent, with scrum-half Raffi Quirke and Bevan Rodd also now in the England fold, and it is showing in the table.
It is not thought that the club will lose too many players to the Autumn Nations Series in November and could therefore be one of the strongest sides in the Premiership across the next eight weeks.
So, then, the Sharks are circling a top-four place – and on current performances they will deserve it.
But the league is 26 rounds and 22 matches so there’s a long way to go for Sanderson’s men this term.
And as for Sanderson – who is off the same Saracens train of coaches as Paul Gustard, Steve Borthwick, Eddie Jones and Andy Farrell – his 18 months have seen an increase in performance similar to Borthwick’s, who won the title in his second full season with Tigers.
“I have a growing sense of belief in these lads to get through games like these,” Sanderson said after the win over Exeter earlier this month.
“To cement this team’s identity and culture and what we’re about this season, it’s really important to get those wins early, something that we didn’t do last year. It’s rewarding and encouraging.”
Sale are rocking it on the pitch but have work to do off it. There were discussions over a stadium move recently and their current co-owner, Simon Orange, has spoken about how they need to fill their 12,000 capacity venue.
“A message to those thinking the ticket price is too high in rugby,” he wrote on social media last month. “I can only talk on behalf of Sale but we’re looking at reducing some prices to help people to afford to come.
“What would your view be of £10 tickets in the north stand and £5 for kids? Would we fill the stand?”
The side’s two home matches so far this season have not seen an attendance of over 5,500. Despite the performances on the field, there’s lots to work on for the Sharks.
They have, however, started tapping into Manchester’s rich footballing heritage. Their home kit is blue and their away kit red, which they have used in their marketing to stress that all are welcome to be Sharks no matter which colour they wear to the football.
Unbeaten in four and on their best ever points start to a season, Sale Sharks have discovered themselves in a post-Diamond era.
It’s been a slow build but the team from Salford are really starting to turn the screw in their second full season under Sanderson.
Having been in the top four at the end of the 2019-20 season there’s a bar to aim for, and based on what we have seen so far this year there is little doubt they will be challenging for the semi-finals at the end of the season.