Saturday saw the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season come to an end as Saracens secured the title for the second year in a row with a thrilling a 37-34 victory over Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham.
It has been a campaign of ups and downs for all 12 teams in the league, including Sale Sharks. They finished seventh and reached the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup. A run that has seen Steve Diamond’s side secure Champions Cup rugby next season.
A competition it is vital that the Sharks’ are playing in with the influx of new signings joining the club this summer.
So, with this season now in the books, we take a look back on a topsy-turvy year for Sale Sharks.
Speaking to many Sale supporters, the victory over Saracens is one that will live long in the memory. It was a win that confirmed Sale’s ability to match the very best teams. Saracens had a full strength side at their disposal, but they were no match for the Sharks’, who triumphed 24-18. If Steve Diamond could bottle up one of his side’s performances this season, then this would be it.
There was also an impressive double completed over third placed Gloucester. The win at Kingsholm in December was not predicted by many and saw Sale at their free-flowing best.
The run to the semi-final Challenge Cup provided plenty of highlights. Chris Ashton scored a hat-trick on debut in a hammering of Connacht in the group stages of the competition. The Irish side were also defeated in the quarter-finals of the tournament.
La Rochelle proved too strong in the last four but, even in defeat, Jono Ross and his team showed the level of performance they are capable of.
It is easy to forget just how much Sale were struggling back in the early part of the season. Just one win from their opening five games left the Sharks’ rooted to the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership. Defeats away at Harlequins, Exeter, and Leicester would have perhaps been expected. However,a damaging 31-13 home loss to Wasps left many experts tipping Sale as potential relegation candidates.
Of course, it was a barren run which was eventually turned around but with a better start to the campaign and Sale may well have made the top four.
The Sharks’ away from never really recovered. The Salford outfit put in disappointing performances against Newcastle and Worcester, but the hammering at the hands of Northampton was no doubt the worst of the lot. The Saints scored nine tries in a 67-17 win. An afternoon at Franklin’s Gardens which all involved at Sale will quickly want to forget.
Who has impressed?
Tom Curry continued his imperious rise up the ranks for both club and country. He finished with the most turnovers in the entire Premiership, 22 in total, and is likely to play a huge role for England in the World Cup.
The ever-present Faf de Klerk was at his lively best throughout the season, causing havoc for opposition sides. He was ably supported by fellow South African Jono Ross. The Sharks’ captain arguably enjoying his best season at the club to date. No man in the entire league finished with more tackles than the back-row maestro.
England winger Denny Solomona also enjoyed a brilliant season. He scored twelve tries, the joint most in the competition and must surely now be on England’s radar.
Other notable performers included Ross Harrison, Josh Beaumont, and the James brothers.
There is an understandable amount of excitement amongst Sale fans ahead of next season. Steve Diamond has assembled a squad which is arguably the clubs strongest since their Premiership winning team of 2006. Rob du Preez returns at fly-half and his brothers Jean-Luc and Dan will join him.
Akker van der Merwe, Lood de Jager, and Coenie Oosthuizen have also made the move to Carrington. Six names that will add huge amounts of quality to an improving squad.
There is every chance that next season could be one where the Sharks’ return to the top-four.