Tuilagi arrival can put Sale on path to Premiership glory
England centre adds a new dimension as Diamond builds a Sharks side capable of claiming first title since 2006
Janse van Rensburg, three imposing centres should remain fresh despite a congested fixture list. Diamond is used to managing a small roster.
Another strategy has been to blood and trust youth. Ben Curry turned 22 last month, yet has made 64 league appearances. Although the introduction of Tuilagi brings the number of senior players to just 34 – if Cobus Wiese’s work permit is approved – the only place Sale look slightly thin is in the back three.
Then again, expect Diamond to present opportunities for individuals such as academy prospect Tom Roebuck, the England Under-20 wing who trained with Eddie Jones’s senior set-up during the 2020 Six Nations.
Leicester supporters will tell you, justifiably, that injuries restricted Tuilagi’s impact. But many would also admit that a dearth of team cohesion – epitomised by a procession of five coaches in just over three years at Welford Road – mitigated his ability to influence games.
One tactic, of leaving him in the backfield as an explosive kick-returner, was adopted by England.
However, playmaker George Ford spoke of the need to ensure Tuilagi was not running into brick walls.
Although hooker Rob Webber and lock Bryn Evans have left, Sale should still be able to rely on a strong line-out platform. They have Dorian West on the coaching staff and jumpers such as Lood de Jager, Josh Beaumont and the Du Preez twins, Daniel and Jean-Luc.
Tom Curry has developed into a sharp distributor at the tail of mauls. Attack coach Paul Deacon, a veteran of rugby league, is a stickler for detail when it comes to running angles and slice patterns.
Just as cunning attackers such as Sam James and Denny Solomona will capitalise on how Tuilagi attracts defenders, Deacon will devise ways to give Sale’s new recruit oneon-ones by launching him with plenty of heavy bodies in motion.
England’s defensive masterclass against New Zealand in the semifinal of the World Cup was underpinned by Tuilagi’s display in the outside-centre channel.
Tuilagi reprises that combination with Tom Curry. Ben, Tom’s twin brother, is another ravenous jackaller, while Faf de Klerk adopts a roaming role that spooks teams into mistakes. Around them, workhorses such as Ross Harrison and Jono Ross graft relentlessly.
Theoretically, it is a disruptive blend and one for Sale defence coach Mike Forshaw to relish.
Whether he meant to express the compliment in this order, Diamond’s description of Tuilagi as a “fantastic commercial and playing addition” made one ponder the returns of a deal that is understood to be worth about £300,000 for the remainder of this season and the 2020-21 campaign.
Within three hours of being posted to Sale’s official Instagram account, a photograph of Diamond shaking hands with Tuilagi had garnered 10,000 likes.
Tuilagi, a grinning, all-action player who is popular with fans and looks good on posters, will sell tickets and doubtless enhance Sale’s chances of winning the Premiership for the first time since 2006.
There is a Premiership Rugby Cup final against Harlequins in the diary as well, and the club are plotting a new stadium in Sale. These are exciting times.
Shake on it: Steve Diamond, director of rugby at Sale, welcomes Manu Tuilagi to the club