Sale Sharks’ 2012/13 season was anything but dull – after a disastrous start, behind-the-scenes shake-ups, fines, a cup final and shock resignations, the club achieved survival under Steve Diamond’s stewardship.
Director of rugby Bryan Redpath announced David Seymour would skipper the Sharks for the 2012/13 season, marshalling such illustrious names as Mark Cueto, Dwayne Peel and Danny Cipriani.
The club made a double swoop for players, snapping up former Waratahs and Western Force full-back Cameron Shepherd and Newcastle Falcons’ Corne Uys.
The opening fixture of the Aviva Premiership campaign saw the Sharks travel to Exeter’s Sandy Park for a rude awakening, as they suffered a heavy 43-6 defeat.
The Chiefs ran rampant over a shell-shocked Sale, racking up six tries to none and condemning their visitors to the foot of the table after only one game.
Sale lost again when they entertained Saracens at home, putting in an improved performance but going down 23-16 after a Chris Ashton try.
And it was more of the same at Twickenham Stoop, as Redpath’s men started brightly, before an error-strewn final quarter saw them slump to a third successive defeat.
Rumours their poor start may have been a blip transformed into serious concerns after a 29-19 loss to Premiership new boys London Welsh.
The result saw club chairman Steve Diamond take drastic action to buck the side’s poor form, as forwards coach Steve Scott left the club.
But Sale continued to disappoint on the field and were torn apart 31-10 against Bath at the Recreation Ground.
The game was given an extra sour note, as Andy Powell and Tom Brady were disciplined by the RFU for mouthing foul language and making offensive gestures to the home fans.
The bad run continued into a second month, as the Sharks were unable to maintain their first half momentum against a formidable Leicester side at home.
Rob Miller surged over early in the first half and Nick Macleod notched a penalty, yet Sale faded badly after the break, shipping 14 unanswered points on their way to a 20-8 loss.
Sale’s fans finally had something to cheer about after a miserable start to the season, opening their Heineken Cup campaign with their first win of the season over Cardiff Blues.
A Cipriani-inspired second-half revival saw the Sharks run out 34-33 victors – the former England international came on with 49 minutes played and transformed the side with his kicking and passing.
But they were unable to chalk up back-to-back wins for the first time this campaign, suffering a 33-18 defeat to Heineken Cup group rivals Montpellier in France.
A bonus point was little consolation for Redpath’s men at Sixways, as they fell to a 23-16 defeat to Worcester Warriors.
Trailing by seven points to their hosts, Sale would reflect on what might have been as a superb attacking performance in the final quarter failed to translate into points.
The Sharks’ slow start to the season cut short Redpath’s position as director of rugby, as he took up a new role as head coach at the end of the month.
The Scot remained in charge of on-pitch affairs, yet off-the-field reforms saw him share power with a rugby strategy management board of himself, Ian Blackhurst, Steve Diamond and John Mitchell.
Sale began November with their first, long-awaited victory of the league campaign, easing to a 21-9 victory over London Irish at Salford City Stadium to end a barren seven-game run.
However, the Exiles exacted their revenge in the very next fixture – an LV= Cup pool match – condemning the Sharks to a 34-28 defeat at the Madejski Stadium.
The club soon recovered, eking out a narrow 25-23 victory over high-flying Saracens in their next cup feature five days later.
With the lead changing hands six times, full-back Shepherd was given a debut to remember, as Miller snatched the win with a late penalty.
Any hope of transferring cup form into their stuttering league campaign was snuffed out with a 29-3 defeat at Kingsholm, as Gloucester’s Freddie Burns put a timid Sale to the sword.
There was more upheaval behind the scenes as former club number eight John Mitchell was finally released from his contract with South Africa’s Golden Lions.
The one-time All Blacks coach was introduced as Sale’s new director of rugby role on November 28 with a remit to arrest the club’s slide into relegation.
Yet Mitchell was unable to win his first game in charge, going down 27-16 to Northampton Saints at home.
Sale’s December was tinged with tragedy after news of the sad loss of David Tait – the former Sharks man and England U20s international fell from a roof in Hong Kong.
The Sharks began their month with a creditable 17-6 loss to European heavyweights Toulon in a home Heineken Cup fixture.
Holding their own for the majority of the contest, Sale were eventually picked off by the kicking boot of Jonny Wilkinson and a David Smith try.
However, any momentum was quickly crushed in the return fixture in France – fielding a youthful side, Mitchell’s men were crushed 62-0 in their heaviest defeat of the season.
And the European hangover continued to affect the Sharks in their next game, against London Wasps, as wayward kicking condemned them to a 25-18 bonus point defeat at Adams Park.
But Sale were determined to end the year on a high and secured a valuable four points, after a 33-27 thriller against Worcester Warriors at Salford City Stadium.
Despite being down 9-0 early in the first half, the Sharks finally found their form and grabbed only their second league win of the campaign.
Yet any smiles were soon wiped off Sale faces, as Mitchell announced his shock resignation soon after the game, citing personal reasons.
The Kiwi-born coach lasted barely a month in his post, leaving a record of four defeats and one win before being replaced by club chairman Diamond in the director of rugby role.
In perhaps the most critical piece of negotiation of the season by Diamond, Sale signed up Kiwi flanker Dan Braid from Auckland Blues on New Year’s Day.
But Sale lost a trusted servant days later, as former England back-row Hendrie Fourie was forced into retirement due to injury.
The Sharks started the year with the formidable task of Saracens at Vicarage Road and, despite four Cipriani penalties, late tries saw the home side run out 32-12 winners.
Attention turned to the Heineken Cup next and Montpellier’s class was too much for a young Sale unit, as the French side claimed a 27-6 win at Salford City Stadium.
And Sale’s disappointing European campaign ended with defeat, as Leigh Halfpenny inspired Cardiff Blues to a 26-14 victory in Wales, leaving the Sharks bottom of their group.
Sale finished another miserable month with a flourish however, as a vintage Cipriani display helped the Sharks to a 36-17 bonus point victory over Scarlets in the LV= Cup.
January also saw forwards trio Richie Vernon, Richie Gray and Alasdair Dickinson called up for Scottish Six Nations duty, while promising prop Henry Thomas trained with the England squad.
Sale picked up where they left off in February by qualifying for a home LV= Cup semi-final with a nail-biting 33-30 victory against Wasps at Adams Park.
The Sharks carried strong cup form into their struggling league campaign, as Cueto broke Steve Hanley’s Aviva Premiership try-scoring record and helped Sale to a 21-16 win over Exeter Chiefs.
Then came Sale’s most crucial win of the season, a 26-25 away victory over fellow strugglers London Welsh, including a stunning Will Cliff try and last-gasp penalty by substitute Macleod.
With Sale’s resurgence in form surely a critical factor in the decision-making process, captain Seymour, Braid, and last season’s top try-scorer Miller put pen to paper at Barton.
It looked like Sale would be set for a perfect month after Cameron Shepherd’s 70-second try against Harlequins, but the reigning Aviva Premiership champions recovered to record 30-21 victory.
February also saw ex-England Saxon Kearnan Myall agree to join London Wasps at the end of the season, after a little over a year as a Sale lock.
In arguably the toughest match of the season, Sale were thoroughly outplayed in a 48-10 defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, with a late Powell try merely consolation.
But the Sharks moved off the foot of the Aviva Premiership table in bizarre fashion, as London Welsh were deducted five points for fielding ineligible player Tyson Keats in ten matches.
With pressure lifted off Sale shoulders, the Sharks booked their LV= Cup final place with a 21-15 victory over a second-string Saracens side, thanks to Tom Holmes and Nathan Fowles tries.
But the fairy-tale end to the Anglo-Welsh cup was not to be, as Leota’s try was not enough to prevent Harlequins edging a barnstorming battle at Sixways to win 32-14.
The Sharks spent little time licking their wounds however, as Brady’s late try sealed a hugely impressive 14-13 home win over Bath a week later, moving them six points clear of Welsh.
And Sale finished a jam-packed month of rugby with three points in a 33-33 draw at London Irish, sealed by a last-gasp Macleod penalty.
With safety becoming an ever-increasing possibility, Tuitupou and Marc Jones agreed new deals and Tom Arscott signed from London Welsh, but Charlie Amesbury agreed to join Bristol at the end of the season.
Sale opened the month with their standout performance of the year, a 32-9 drubbing of play-off chasing Gloucester in front of a partisan Salford crowd, which confirmed their place in next year’s Aviva Premiership.
Charge-down tries inside the opening ten minutes from Peel and Leota epitomised Sale’s fighting spirit and served as a rare reminder of the side’s potential.
The mood at Carrington was lifted further with the news that Eifion-Lewis Roberts had been found not guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs while playing for former club Toulon.
However, Sale were brought back down to earth with their biggest domestic defeat of the season at Franklins Gardens, as Northampton Saints ran-in seven tries in a 47-7 victory.
Cipriani made the headlines after a colliding with a bus in Leeds on the annual Sale night out – remarkably the former England fly-half was able to leave hospital the next day.
And the month ended with a flurry of transfer activity, as Michael Paterson, Kirill Kulemin, Phil Mackenzie, Charlie Walker-Blair, Andy Forsyth, and Dan Baines signed up.
Powell and Jordan Davies said goodbye to Sale Sharks and rugby union, as they switched codes to join Wigan Warriors and Salford City Reds respectively.
Diamond continued to put into place his plans for an improved next season of Aviva Premiership rugby, with Holmes, Brady, Mark Easter and Aston Croall all signing new deals.
And Sale treated a packed out Salford City Stadium crowd to a 21-20 victory over Wasps in the final game of the season, with Braid and Brady tries earning the spoils.
The Sharks finished the season in tenth position, level with London Irish above them on points, with London Welsh relegated to the English Championship.
Given Sale were rooted to the foot of the table at Christmas, a tenth placed finish and an LV Cup final are proof of a remarkable turnaround, but Diamond will want a drastic improvement next season.
Image courtesy of ESPNscrum, via YouTube, with thanks.