Sport

Spectre of relegation from Aviva Premiership forced Steve Diamond’s hand in return to Sale Sharks hot-seat

By Barrie White – Sports News Editor

The plan was, and still remains, to turn Sale Sharks into a northern super club on the back of a return to European rugby and a new management team.

Bryan Redpath, fresh from leaving Aviva Premiership rivals Gloucester, was the new man in charge as Steve Diamond – a Sale player, coach and director of rugby – focused on his role as chief executive after leading them to sixth place.

But with seven league defeats out of seven, and just one win in the Heineken Cup against a struggling Cardiff Blues, Redpath’s short-lived era is over with Diamond back at the helm of the club so close to his heart as it struggles for Premiership survival.

This week, he took back the reins in a re-shuffle that sees Redpath, a former Sharks captain, demoted from director of rugby to become head coach, with New Zealander John Mitchell completing the set-up in a consultancy role.

Diamond, who will be in charge until the end of the season, admitted the spectre of relegation hanging over the club after a shocking run of results forced him to act and protect Sale’s long-term ambitions.

“Relegation is a disaster for you and that’s what we’re going to try and avert by good management,” said Diamond, who admitted he faced a similar experience at Saracens in the mid-2000s.

“There’s financial pressure on all clubs as we rely on benefactors, as all rugby clubs do. The one in twelve chance of going down is high and every club talks about it.

“There seems to be a plethora of things that have gone wrong and lots of things haven’t worked or been put in place, and a combination of that is a lack of performance on a match day, and that’s how we’re ultimately judged as coaches and players.

“But how long do we carry on? Do you we carry on until halfway through? There’s no easy sides – London Welsh have proven that as they’re eight points above us at the moment.

“We’ve got to win three games just to get off the bottom. With all due respect to us, we’re looking to get our first win at the weekend, but until now, we’re looking like we’ve not been able to get that.”

Diamond is long enough in the tooth to not let criticisms of the way he has handled Redpath’s appointment and subsequent removal distract him from the job in hand.

The former Russia coach believes he has looked long and hard at his own decision making and accepts he has contributed to a lack of stability at the Sharks.

But he insisted pointing the finger of blame, particularly at the under-performing playing staff, will get the club nowhere, and is confident his own abilities will turn the situation around.

“As chief executive, you’ve got to take a certain amount of blame,” he said.

“You’re in this position and you bring people in you think are capable of doing a good job, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Evidently here it hasn’t – what we’ve created is a non-blame culture.

“You could point it at the players if you wanted to, but that gets you nowhere. We’ve learnt that over the years, so it’s about bringing the players closer together, and ultimately working through it and showing what we’re about – a hardworking and abrasive side.

“Ultimately I’m responsible for the direction of the club and if it continues, results-wise, on a downward spiral, you have to look at your own position. I’m very confident of my own abilities, and very confident of the players’ abilities and the management’s abilities.”

With Redpath now free of the stresses of management, added to Diamond’s self-proclaimed combativeness, victory against London Irish tomorrow becomes a much more realistic prospect.

But if Sale’s winless streak continues, Diamond could face an impossible task to rescue – never mind consolidate – last year’s excellent work, and stay in the Aviva Premiership.

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