19 The Daily Telegraph Monday 21 September 2020 *** spirited Saints Diamond wants fancy trophy for ‘a fancy training ground’ before going down 16-10 on the restart of the Premiership. A hint of menace, suggesting it will not happen again, laces Jono Ross’s admission that Harlequins “bullied” Sale a month ago. Diamond has rotated his squad, loading Tom Curry, Faf de Klerk and Manu Tuilagi on to the bench. Sam James starts at outside centre, in an intriguing head-to-head with Joe Marchant, and will be sporting a peroxide tint to his mullet hairstyle that has earned the nickname “Tiger King” after Joe Exotic, the star of the popular Netflix documentary. The creative 26-year-old remembers acting as a travelling reserve for the 2013 Anglo-Welsh Cup decider at Sixways, won 32-14 by Harlequins, and is eager to set the tone for a fascinating Premiership run-in. “Off the back of a tough loss for us, training has been electric,” he said. “We’re coming down to the crunch of the season and we speak about ourselves 90 per cent of the time because we’d like to think that, if we get our game right, not many teams can live with us.” Harlequins, and specifically vicecaptain Stephan Lewies, will attempt to spoil a De Jager-less line-out in seeking to crash the party in Salford. Gustard has highlighted how a win would send Chris Robshaw off to San Diego on a note befitting his phenomenal service to Harlequins. Diamond has another storyline in mind. “The lads had three days off [after the Bath defeat] and then a nice get-together to have a chat about things,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to be in a cup final and win something because not many players do. We’ve got a fancy new training ground. I want to build a fancy cupboard and put something in it.” By Charlie Morgan It is just as well that Sale Sharks have an opportunity to secure their first trophy for 14 years tonight, because last week was not kind to them. Following a 37-22 defeat by Bath in the Premiership, homecoming plans for a new stadium lost support and were dropped. They then received confirmation that Lood de Jager, their Rugby World Cup-winning lock, needs a shoulder operation and faces up to six months out. Rob Webber’s plight summed up a calamitous few days. The former England hooker, signed to a shortterm contract, was sin-binned 11 minutes after coming off the bench against Bath. During a fleeting appearance, he broke his collarbone and has undergone surgery. “Thank you very much, Rob Webber,” laughed Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby, on Friday morning. “The shortest, most expensive cameo I have ever paid out.” With four wins and three defeats since rugby union’s resumption, Sale have returned in inconsistent form. The rescheduled Premiership Cup final against Harlequins offers a precious opportunity to reset ahead of a defining month. Sale sit fourth in the league table, level on points with fifth-placed Bristol Bears. They are one point behind Bath and two behind Wasps. Two rounds of league action remain. If clubs end up level on points, their total of victories is the first divider. Then, points difference comes into play. Diamond reckons each of the quartet, all vying to join Exeter Chiefs in the play-offs, will win their final two matches. With that in mind, lifting the Premiership Cup would provide a timely boost. “This has always been a good competition to generate momentum,” Diamond added. “I got to the final seven years ago against Harlequins, ironically. I always treat it with respect. We, like Bath, Bristol and Wasps, have two big games. I reckon all four sides could win both of their games, which would take it down to who wins them by what margin, etc. “It gives us good preparation. We’re not complacent, we didn’t play well in certain areas against Bath, but s--- happens. There’s no point dwelling on it.” Already in 2019-20, two domestic meetings with Paul Gustard’s Harlequins have brought wildly contrasting outcomes. Sale triumphed 48-10 at the AJ Bell Stadium in January Premiership Cup final Sale v Harlequins 7.45pm, AJ Bell Stadium, BT Results European Champions Cup Qtr-finals European Challenge Cup Qtr finals Toulouse 36-8 Ulster This proved to be a step too far for Ulster, as their wretched record in France was extended to six straight defeats, with Toulouse coasting into the Champions Cup semi-finals. This was always the least attractive of the quarter-finals, with Toulouse unbeaten in for the past 22 matches. For much of the game it lived up to that billing; scrappy and lacking in intensity, despite the presence of 5,000 fans inside the Stade Ernest Wallon. But when Toulouse’s high-jinking duo Cheslin Kolbe and Antoine Dupont are in this mood, grandeur can come in an instant. It took the pair only three minutes to produce a try-scoring combination, with the impish scrum-half ’s hail-mary pass finding Kolbe out wide to score. la ville rose European Challenge Cup semi-finals Bristol v Bordeaux Fri 7.45pm, Ashton Gate, BT Toulon v Leicester Sat 8.00pm, Stade Mayol, BT
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