Sale Sharks’ Diamond wants more European action despite fifth straight loss

It was a familiar story for Sale Sharks as a late try denied them victory against ASM Clermont Auvergne on Saturday and consigned them to their fifth straight defeat in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Sale’s spirited performance was not enough to avenge the 35-3 loss suffered away at last year’s finalists Clermont in their previous fixture, but a 22-13 scoreline at the AJ Bell stadium was at least respectable.

Director of rugby Steve Diamond was stoic in defeat and praised the new-look European tournament for its competitiveness and the quality of the rugby on show.

He said: “We have lost at home in the last minute to three sides in the Champions Cup – Munster, Saracens and now Clermont. But it’s good for us to play sides week-in, week-out that are better than us. 

“We will learn from these games and the goal for us this season is to once again qualify for the Champions Cup. It is a joy to play in this tournament and we want to be playing against sides of this standard.”

The Sharks sit eighth in the Aviva Premiership table but are poised to make a push for a top six finish and after this campaign the players know what is required to challenge on the highest stage of club rugby.

Diamond was keen to highlight the gulf in resources between the two clubs and the talent that the cash-rich French sides can afford.

“They have a wage bill that is six or seven times higher than ours and all we could do was set out to frustrate them.

“We were embarrassed by our performance in the last 20 minutes of the game in Clermont, but we knew it wouldn’t be easy for them in Salford because of the travelling and the weather.

“We were in the game for 65-70 minutes, but whenever they got into our territory their skill set was higher. When we brought on a replacement the quality wasn’t as high as theirs, and ours made a few mistakes.”

The match was also Danny Cipriani’s last opportunity to impress England head coach Stuart Lancaster before he and the selectors meet for a final time on Monday.

The fly-half did his chances no harm, producing a try-saving tackle early on and scoring eight points from the boot ensuring he maintained his 100% kicking record at home in the Champions Cup.

The squad is announced on Wednesday, but early indications are that Cipriani remains fourth choice for the fly-half position and may be named in the England Saxons side instead.

This has fuelled speculation about a lucrative move to Toulon for Sale’s star man, a decision that would exclude him from England’s squad ahead of the World Cup due to the RFL’s policy on picking players based over-seas.

“The decision I make will not be based purely on the England selection,” Cipriani said. “It’s flattering to have interest from one of the top clubs in Europe.

“I am enjoying my time at Sale and it’s a decision I am going to have to make in the next couple of weeks, so I just have to weigh things up and see how it goes.”

Sale will face Irish opposition next week as they travel to Munster still looking to break their duck in the final group game of the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Main image courtesy of Sale Sharks via YouTube, with thanks.

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