Every week two children are chosen to be Sale Sharks mascots at the AJ Bell and are asked the question “Who’s your favourite player?”
The answer, without fail, is Danny Cipriani.
The fly-half, whether he catches the eye of new England coach Eddie Jones or not, is a huge draw for the club and inspiration for the youth teams – an academy that churns out more Premiership players than any other club in England, except Harlequins.
Cipriani is not alone in trying to make an impression on the Australian, after Paul Ackford’s biting open letter in The Times last week offered unsolicited advice to Jones.
The former lock suggested that the new incumbent should focus his selections on Bath, Exeter, Harlequins and Leicester, dismissing table-toppers Saracens as a “work in progress”.
For Sale however, Ackford reserved his worst snub that the Mancunian side were “not worth bothering about”.
The Sale team gave a measured response following Ackford’s remarks but not before Steve Diamond branded the Times columnist a “dinosaur” and dismissed his assessment of the Sharks as drivel before the club’s retort.
“Whilst it’s only an opinion, to have it read by many fans in the game is damaging and detrimental to Sale Sharks and what we are trying to achieve in an area with one of the biggest concentrations of Premier League football and rugby league teams in the country,” they stated.
“Although we have seen vast improvements off the pitch over the past few years, we don’t enjoy the luxury of some teams being ‘the only show in town’ and have to work overtime to attract fans.
“Newcastle Falcons were also on the ‘don’t bother with’ list and I think Paul Ackford should be reminded that in 2003 when England lifted the World Cup, the scorers on the day were representatives of Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons.”
Indeed, when Sharks and Falcons faced off at the AJ Bell in a 15-15 deadlock last weekend, neither looked like a side resigned to the lower orders of Premiership rugby.
The Sharks’ statement continued by pointing out that England’s recent performance, with a team made of a great number of the sides lauded by Ackford as the “only sides playing intelligent, adaptive, inclusive, integrated rugby”, fell far short of expectations.
“Subsequent to the failure of England at the World Cup we feel it would be in the country’s best interest to follow a model such as ours,” it read on.
“Instead of recruiting too many players from around the world we endeavour to retain the North West’s home grown talent and give them the opportunity to play at the highest level.
“This is surely critical for English Rugby going forward and therefore we believe we are due more respect?”
This is a strong statement from Sale: don’t overlook us, don’t underestimate us.
And why should these hard-working players be dismissed because of where they’re from or, even more preposterously, for their loyalty to the club that trained them.
To limit selection to a few southern clubs will seriously reduce the reach of the national game: it will lose relevance for those unfortunate enough to be born north of Watford (although Ackford made Leicester his notable exception).
Rugby union has struggles enough to maintain a following in the north of the country, without taking the pride and hope of international glory from the few loyal supporters who turn out week after week to watch their teams.
Cipriani, who scored all 15 of his side’s hard-fought points on Saturday afternoon, believes several of his young teammates would be excellent choices for Jones over the coming years.
“If Sam James or Mike Haley put in performances over the next four games, who’s to say they can’t be playing for England?” he told MM.
“All Eddie Jones will see is how excellent they are as players and there won’t be any pre-conceived ideas.”
Cipriani also tipped hooker Tommy Taylor as having every attribute required to be an international hooker.
“There’s no reason why more people in this team can’t be playing for England,” he said.
“Tommy is smart, physically in great shape, he’s a great rugby player, Sam can play 10, 12, 13 and Mike’s got a great temperament.
“Hopefully people will take notice, even if we’re not deemed to be one of the strongest teams, there are still individuals who are good enough.”
The message to Paul Ackford from the Sharks is clear: you could not be more wrong.
So the ball is in your 22, Mr Jones.