Sale have undergone a great deal of change this summer in the wake of a disappointing Guinness Premiership season that ended in a relegation dogfight.
Will the changes they made have the desired effect? Will the club have their fortunes turned around or will they continue to struggle? And one question that will be prominent in every Sale fan’s mind, will the bog, sorry pitch, be any better than last season?
Last season Saracens removed Eddie Jones and replaced him with Brendan Venter, sparking the belief that Saracens were undergoing a South African revolution. At the time virtually all rugby fans looked upon what happened with disdain, and the way the changes were carried out did not represent rugby in a good light. But, credit where credit is due, Saracens were the stand out side for much of last season with a rejuvenated squad and an unprecedented level of togetherness.
The current situation at Sale is comparable in many respects. Mike Brewer has been recruited by Brian Kennedy and is somewhat similar to Venter: he knows who he wants in his squad and how he wants to play, and he has surely bruised some egos.
He has pursued a transfer policy which is interesting to say the least – few of the players he has brought in have Premiership experience and perhaps the two who have been most acclaimed have question marks over them.
Samoan wing Mikaele Pesamino is a remarkable player at sevens but has yet to set the 15s world alight – potential echoes of Waisale Serevi perhaps? Kiwi Karena Wihongi was rumoured to have insurance issues that prevented him from transferring within France, suggesting that the North West of England might not have been his preferred destination.
The happiness of the players already at Sale must also be looked at when considering the team’s prospects. Senior personnel such as Mark Cueto and Charlie Hodgson are unlikely to be pleased to see Jason Robinson, their old team mate, released in such a way considering his service to the club. And the wholesale changes have not been of the quality of Sebastian Chabal, Sebastian Bruno and Chris Schofield, which is what Hodgson was looking for when he made comments about important players not being replaced last season.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for Sale fans. There has clearly been a change in mentality throughout the club and they will not be content with looking longingly to their Guinness Premiership win in 2006 for comfort. The single-mindedness of Mike Brewer combined with the talents of Dwayne Peel, Mathew Tait, Hodgson and Cueto could truly rejuvenate the team from Edgeley Park.
Sale fans must take heart from Saracens last season, that a squad thrown together and with plenty of doubters like myself can bond and become a team. And rest assured the pitch will definitely be better.
By Alex Harking