Di­a­mond says play-off place in Sale’s hands but ex­pects drama

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Rugby Union - By Gary Fitzger­ald at Welford Road

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

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