Sale, England and Lions legend Mark Cueto talks with Sale Sharks Director of Rugby, Steve Diamond (Dimes), about the season so far and the upcoming clash with Harlequins.
We get an exclusive, backstage insight into the clubs training regime, commitment to discipline and strategy for the season ahead.
— Morson (@MorsonGroup) October 4, 2017
Mark Cueto, Sale Sharks Commercial Director and Club Ambassador (MC)
What is your reflection on the start of the season so far?
Steve Diamond, Sale Sharks Director of Rugby (SD)
We’ve got a very good team on our hands, good coaching staff and good set of lads behind the scenes at Sale Sharks. Admittedly we need to iron afew basic issues out, but if we can get a good run of wins together, starting at the weekend with Harlequins, I think that there’s no reason why we can’t challenge any of the other teams.
The new lads (Faf de Klerk, Josh Strauss and Jono Ross) are high-quality players. Added to this we have an unbelievable production line of talent in place, which we started 7 years ago. We have 15 players (out of a 32-man team) in the under 18’s England squad, which just shows that we have a really exciting future ahead of us.
The result last weekend against Gloucester was fantastic but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves – we’re away at Harlequins this weekend and notoriously we’ve not been a good travelling side. But, we’ve been well prepared on the training pitch – the lads at the back, the skippers and the coaching staff have all been working hard to get the result away from home this weekend.
Across the board it’s been quite a funny start to the season – it’s been one week good one week bad for Sale. Is it the most competitive season that you’ve seen for a while?
I think it is. I was fortunate to play in both eras, before and after the game was professional, and the difference from 20 years ago to now is unrecognisable. This year alone, there’s been some law changes, brought in by World Rugby, which have really speeded the game up. For example, the ball is in play for 4 minutes more, which is a massive amount of time in rugby.
This benefits us because its making the ball quicker, and when you have players like Faff (de Klerk, scrum half) and outside backs such as Byron (McGuigan) and Denny (Solomona) who can capitalise on a quick ball, we can score tries. I don’t think it was a fluke that we took our opportunities well last weekend, forcing a lot of errors from Gloucester and scoring tries.
Home form is really important, and anyone who doesn’t believe that doesn’t know what they’re talking about! We lost against Newcastle, which was a poor game, and we need to get that result back, which we’re capable of doing on Friday night in London. If we do get it right against Harlequins we’ll be going into Europe in the top 6, which is where we want to be.
From a coaching point of view and from a spectator point of view its fantastic that the game has been speeded up, and we’re seeing more tries and more entertaining games. For example, in the first game of the season there were 50 tries which is a record for round 1 in the Premiership. What impact does that have in terms of coaching, are you tightening up the defence or focussing on the attack?
We spend equal time on both. For me, playing in Manchester, we have to play an exciting brand of rugby. And that’s why we’ve recruited some great new players this season. We’re in a football mad city, with Rugby League on our doorstep, so to get people to come to us and engage with Sale Sharks we need a great facility (which we have at AJ Bell) and players who come from the locality, interspersed with high quality international players. This gives us the ingredients to play great rugby.
I think come Friday night, we’ll be difficult to beat. I’m a big believer in rugby league, when I started coaching, and you (Mark Cueto) were playing, our big ploy was to bring Jason Robinson over from league, and when I went to Saracens I took Andy Farrell with me. Now we have the investment from Simon and Ged the first pick was Denny Solomona and Josh Charley and they’ve been brilliant for us, with Josh making a great move from league to union.
What happens behind the scenes is as important as what happens on the field and our coach Paul Deacon, who isn’t well known in Rugby Union, has a great eye for a gap, giving the players freedom of expression but also making sure they get the basics right.
One of those basics is obviously, discipline. Lack of discipline let Sale down last year but it’s been very positive this season from both the team and coaching staff. I know you, Steve, have had afew clahses with the referees and the 4th officials! Have you had any run in’s with the ref this year?
No, no! I have a £5,000 levy on my head from the players, so I just stay in the stand now. But I do think the discipline comes as part of the quality of the players. This year our recruitment drive has gone very well, with our international players bringing high quality and a different approach to skill and discipline.
When people talk about skill sets in rugby, it’s not just about catching and passing the ball, it’s about understanding where you are on the field and how you behave. So far, we’ve scored the second highest number of points in the league, and given the least amount of penalties away.
It’s common knowledge that Harlequins and London Irish have had to train against each other due to injuries. We have a couple of injuries at Sale, but generally we keep our lads pretty fit, how do you ensure our players keep in good condition?
It’s very simple. There’s a lot of press at the moment about the season being too long. I think the solution is to look at the daily training regime and the time spent at the training ground. You can’t spend too much time there but you need to spend enough to get the job done. I’m so proud of our medical team at Sale, who often don’t get recognised but in the last 7 years we’ve had the least injuries in the competition. The lads are well looked after, for example Josh Strauss, when he was at Glasgow, would do 8/9 hours long training days, which is ridiculous. Our guys had a long session today, they were in at 9-2:30, but that’s the most that they will do in the week.
It’s all about the enjoyment of what you do and you have to make sure that the players come in with a bright mindset and leave as soon as possible, as long as the work has been done. And this has been an attitude since I played, because I used to work and train. You don’t need to belt each other up at training, there’s enough of that within a game. By not doing that level of contact in training you take the risk element away. So that’s a big reason why we don’t get injured. If there is a catastrophic injury in a game, for example Tom Curry went off last week with a suspected broken arm, our medical team look at it straight away and Tom will be back playing within 2/3weeks.
We have a great team of 34 senior lads and 12 young lads who are passionate about what they’re doing. If we lose we don’t want to see our boys out on the town, you have to be humble in defeat, we want people to respect the club. The players are our most important asset and we trust our players to look after themselves away from the training ground to ensure that their careers are longer and they play better.
Just finally, Ged and Simon, who bought Sale Sharks 12 months ago, have already heavily invested into the players but off the field they are equally invested, putting in structures and organisations in place such as the academy. Our owners are both Manchester lads and are passionate about pushing local kids through the academy, do you think this is important for Sale’s future success?
What we’ve seen is the tip of the iceberg. Ged and Simon are putting in the infrastructure behind the scenes, with our endeavours to buy the stadium in the next 6 to 12 months with our partners AJ Bell. Under our previous investors we couldn’t shop for the best players, whereas with Simon and Ged on board they understand how important it is to invest in top talent. It’s not about the money, it’s all about the people.
The recruitment piece is the most important part of my job and recommendations are a key part of this. I tried to recruit Jono (Ross) 3 years ago, but he decided to go to France and live in Paris (I don’t know why, when you could be living in Manchester!), but he saw the error of his ways and came back to us. When I met up with him I mentioned we were looking for a number 9, he recommended Faf de Klerk and Faf decided to come with us.
Simon and Ged see the vision, not just for the next 2/3 years but for they want to see Sale Sharks as a super northern club, a club in the top 4 who produces players for England.
You’ve given us a great insight into behind the scenes of the club. Good luck for this weekend (Sale Sharks v. Harlequins 6.10.17), fingers crossed for a fantastic result!
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