Diamond says play-off place in Sale’s hands but expects drama
Steve Diamond expects the dogfight for play-off places to go to the last kick as the intensity and pressure is ramped up in the closing stages of a disrupted campaign.
The Sale director of rugby also insists his players will have only themselves to blame if they miss a top-four spot as they prepare for two crucial home games that could make or break their season.
Diamond had little time to savour and celebrate a rare five-point win, before transferring his thoughts to trying to upset Saracens and Bath when they visit the AJ Bell Stadium on Wednesday and Sunday respec tively. He also needed an urgent health check on some of the walking wounded who endured an ultra-physical showdown with Tigers before being able to select 23 players who will be ready to put their bodies on the line in two days.
England flanker Tom Curry will sit out the clash after sustaining a head injury in this triumph, but Diamond knows he must pick the strongest sides he can in the four remaining normal-season fixtures with so much at stake.
He said: “Each game is so huge and you have to look to win each one. Exeter are a step above everybody and have proven that. But with the likes of Bristol getting bonus points and the others keeping winning you have to match them to remain in with a shout of the top four. It’s a five-horse race to win the trophy and if we slip up now then it’s down to us. We will only have ourselves to blame. I am convinced the battle for the playoffs will go right down to the wire.
“It’s clear that whoever manages their squad best over the next week or so will gain the ascendancy. I was happy with the five points at Leicester because we’ve never got that here before. That was the hardest game we’ve had this season and it will put us in a good place for the remaining games which will decide our fate in terms of the play-offs.
“It was a very physical contest and there are a few broken bodies in there and some players will not
be appearing Wednesday night. Tom Curry is one of them. He had a head injury assessment and is definitely out. We will reassess the rest before deciding who is able to play against Sarries.”
One man certain to play a pivotal role in whether Sale have enough of a title bite is Manu Tuilagi. The England centre enjoyed a happy return to his old Welford Road hunting ground as he grabbed his first Sale try in the bonus-point win.
The 29-year-old, who moved to the AJ Bell Stadium after turning down a reduced Leicester contract in July, demonstrated just what Tigers are missing, with his strength and power in attack and defence.
Diamond said: “Manu wanted to play to exorcise a demon and he did that by scoring a try. He was excellent and, having got his first try for us, I expect he will get many more.”
Leicester, meanwhile, travel to the Ricoh Arena to play Wasps on Wednesday desperate to rediscover the winning habit. They gave Sale a real physical battle, but came up short and have won just one of their past six games.
No8 Hanro Liebenberg said: “It’s frustrating when you make life hard for yourselves. You can’t allow a team like Sale to get a lead and fail to take your own chances. We need to be more clinical in attack and more resolute in defence.”
Making a statement: Manu Tuilagi scored a try on his return to Welford Road with new club Sale