Sport

Year in review 2012: Sale Sharks – European adventure turned sour but more trouble at home

By James Scott

One extreme to the other just about sums up Sale Sharks’ 2012, with qualification for the Heineken Cup, a new stadium all adding up to a serious relegation battle as the club fights one crisis after another.

January

Sale Sharks entered 2012 on the back of a promising first half of the season, in which they’d chalked up six victories in the Aviva Premiership.

The Sharks kicked off 2012 with a spirited New Year’s Day performance against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, losing 28-23 with Nick Macleod’s last gasp drop goal saving a bonus point.

The following weekend at London Irish was memorable for the controversially awarded penalty to the Exiles with three minutes remaining, as the Sharks lost narrowly again, 21-19.

A resounding eleven try victory followed in the Amlin Challenge Cup against La Vila – their biggest away victory of all time – with Rob Miller, Richie Vernon and Tom Brady scoring twice.

But it was an unhappy return to Edgeley Park as Sale bid farewell to the Amlin Challenge Cup with their fourth loss to Brive in a row.

Sale’s January blues continued with their 37-7 loss in the LV=Cup to a resurgent Newcastle Falcons, playing in front of their new Director of Rugby Gary Gold.

For everyone connected with Sale Sharks, January 2012 will be remembered as the month in which they lost one of their former players Selorm Kuadey.

Kuadey was forced to retire from injury in 2010 and the 24-year-old former England under 20s winger died from suspected suicide on the January 15.

February

Sale returned to winning ways on an icy pitch, with Hendrie Fourie’s try and 14 points from Macleod’s boot giving the home side victory in the LV=Cup against Scarlets.

Macleod was the hero again the following Friday as his fifth penalty in the dying minutes against Worcester Warriors saw the home side run out 15-12 winners.

Macleod saved another bonus point away to Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership but 21 points from Stephen Myler saw the home side win the spoils.

The Sharks finished the month with a fantastic Andy Powell inspired 46-34 triumph against Wasps, with captain Sam Tuitupou’s two tries proving decisive at Edgeley Park.

Dwayne Peel, Johnny Leota and Miller also got in on the scoring as Sale’s attacking prowess tore through a usually sturdy Wasps defence.

March

The Sharks suffered a 37-12 defeat to Exeter Chiefs, despite the Devon side being shown two yellow cards, Tony Buckley and Luther Burrell’s tries were not enough.

Sale’s misery continued as champions Saracens ran in five unanswered tries to win 9-45, with Charlie Hodgson in sparkling form at a season-high home crowd of 9,476 at Edgeley Park.

This loss saw the departure of first-team coach Tony Hanks who left the club with Chief Executive Steve Diamond promising change after a disappointing run of defeats.

Despite three tries through James Gaskell, Miller and Tom Brady, the Sharks lost by three points to Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park to sign off a winless month.

Sale fans were given some cheer with the news of superstar Danny Cipriani signing a three year deal to play for Sharks at Salford City Stadium next season.

April

Sale started the Easter month with a crucial 16-9 victory over Bath, a great defensive display, along with another stellar performance from man of the match Powell.

With scores level with eight minutes remaining, Miller chased a kick and grounded the ball over the line; the TMO adjudged it to be a try and Macleod converted.

The Sharks went even better next weekend against Gloucester at Kingsholm, winning for the first time since 2000, Sale’s ‘go to guys’ Miller and Macleod were the heroes once more.

The Sharks were 16-10 down at half time despite Miller’s 11th and 12 tries of the season, but 14 second half points from Welsh fly-half Macleod secured the win.

Following Tony Hanks’s departure in March, Sale were linked with recently departed Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath, with Gloucester threatening legal action if an illegal approach was made.

May

In their last game of their season a young Sale side succumbed to a 10-24 defeat to eventual Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins at Edgeley Park.

But the Sharks were given cause for celebration upon hearing off Bath’s 28-3 loss to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, which ensured Sale Sharks finished in 6th place.

This final positioning secured Heineken Cup rugby for Sale at their new shared stadium Salford City Stadium next season.

Heineken Cup qualification was a target many felt was unlikely, especially with Sale’s erratic form, but their ten wins saw them finish three points above London Irish.

Cumbrian-born Rob Miller received a personal accolade in scoring the most Aviva Premiership tries of the 2011-12 season with an impressive ten tries for the Sharks.

Nick Macleod was also worthy of mention with 231 points scored for Sale, the second most in the 2011-12 season behind London Irish’s Tom Homer.

June

The 2011-12 Aviva Premiership season saw the Sharks improve on their disappointing 10th placed finish of the year before by 17 points and four places.

Former Gloucester Head Coach Bryan Redpath was confirmed as Sale Sharks Director of Rugby on 1st June, taking over from Diamond’s temporary stewardship following Tony Hanks’s departure.

The former Sale and Scotland scum-half spoke of his excitement at taking on the job at Salford City Stadium for the 2012-13season.

“I want to carry on what Steve has started. He’s brought back a club culture. People who care about playing for Sale Sharks are important,” he said.

“I had five great years here and loved every minute. I want to make sure that everyone is playing here for the right reasons.”

June also saw another Scottish arrival with Glasgow Warriors lock completing his move to Sale, with the marquee signing looking forward to testing himself in English rugby.

July

Long serving forward Andrew Sheridan left the club for sunnier shores, moving to French side Toulon after nine years at Sale Sharks in which he made 119 appearances and scored eight tries.

Sale Sharks fans were buoyed in July by the announcements of the Heineken Cup fixtures for the 2011-12 campaign.

Sale were drawn with Powell’s former side Cardiff Blues, French side Montpellier and Johnny Wilkinson’s Toulon, managed by former Sale Director of Rugby Phillipe Saint Andre.

Sharks trio Gaskell, Rob Miller and Henry Thomas were called up to the England Saxons squad by England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster after fine club seasons.

August

On the August 8 Sale Director of Rugby Bryan Redpath made energetic flanker Dave Seymour Sharks captain for the 2012-13 season, with Tuitupou vice-captain.

A week later Sale made a double signing to bolster their ranks with outside centre Corne Uys joining from Newcastle Falcons and Australian full back Cameron Shephard.

August saw the Sharks getting ready to play in their new 12,000 capacity Salford City Stadium, which they agreed to ground share with Salford City Reds in April.

A crowd of 5,000 people turned up to see Sale Sharks’s debut in their new stadium, a 10-10 draw with European champions Leinster, with Cipriani kicking his first goal for Sale.

September

Sale kicked off their 2012-13 campaign with their heaviest ever opening day defeat, a 43-6 loss at Exeter Chiefs which saw four tries within seventeen mistake filled minutes.

The Sharks improved the following week against Saracens but only managed a bonus point at Salford City Stadium despite Will Addison’s try and 14 points from Cipriani.

Despite leading on 23 minutes through Richie Vernon’s try against the league champions, Sale lost 37-14 to Harlequins as late errors proved costly for Redpath’s side.

Sale were on the back foot again against London Welsh, conceding 13 points in the opening ten minutes to the Aviva Premiership new boys and losing 19-29 at home.

A miserable month culminated with a 31-10 away defeat to Bath, with Brady and Powell both shown yellow cards to extinguish Sale hopes in the second half.

The last week of September saw the departure of forwards coach Steve Scott – at the club since December 2012 – after Sale’s poor start to the season.

October

Sale started the month with their best performance of the season at home to Leicester Tigers, leading at half time through a Miller try but the Sharks were overcome in the second half, losing 8-20.

On the 10th October Sale secured their first victory of the season and at Salford City Stadium, running out narrow 34-33 winners in the Heineken Cup against Cardiff Blues.

Man of the match Cipriani came on to score his first try for the club, while Buckley and Tony Jennings tries, along with Miller and Macleod interchanging with the boot, secured the win.

Sale’s first Heineken Cup away fixture ended in a 33-18 loss to Montpellier, as Mark Cueto and Richie Vernon tries were cancelled out by 19 points in ten minutes from the home side.

Despite seeming like the game in which Sale would claim their first league win, 18 points from Worcester’s Andy Goode put the Sharks to bed.

The end of October saw Bryan Redpath removed from his position as Director of Rugby and moved to Head Coach with Steve Diamond temporarily taking charge.

November

Sale Sharks finally chalked off their first victory of the season with their 21-9 win over London Irish at Salford City Stadium after a dominant first half performance.

Macleod and Leota both crafted tries in the first half, both of which were assisted by Cipriani, to give Steve Diamond his first win back in charge.

However in their next game Sale squandered a 21-10 lead through Peel, Cipriani and Amesbury tries to lose 34-28 to fellow strugglers London Irish in the LV=Cup.

Another win was secured for Steve Diamond as Sale beat Saracens – without many players on international duty – by two points in the LV=Cup with Fraser McKenzie on the score sheet.

Sale were back to that losing feeling in the Premiership as they succumbed to a 29-3 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm with Freddie Burns securing 19 points.

A month after Bryan Redpath was demoted, Former Sale player John Mitchell was announced as the new Director of Rugby at Sale.

Former All Blacks coach Mitchell had spent the past couple of weeks in a part time consultancy role at Sale but made the move permanent on the 28th November.

Despite Sale scoring the only tries of a fog-ridden second half through Miller and Tommy Taylor, Northampton Saints ran out 16-27 winners in Mitchell’s first game in charge.

December

The Sharks began the month with a hard fought loss to a star-studded side containing Wilkinson and Sheridan at Salford City Stadium in the Heineken Cup.

David Smith got Toulon’s only try as the French league leaders ran out narrow 6-17 winners, with Wilkinson kicking four penalties to Cipriani’s two.

The return affair in Toulon was a different matter as the French side gave the Sharks a nine try thrashing to win 62-0 and left Sale languishing in third place behind Montpellier.

The year finished in tragic circumstances with the news former Sale player David Tait had fallen to his death from a Hong Kong building.

Tait retired through injury in 2010 after playing 40 times for the club, before moving to Hong Kong to work in the financial sector.

The club expressed its devastation at the news.

Another crisis hit the club when social media executive Holleh Nowrouz was sacked for making derogatory comments about fans.

Image courtesy of Sale Sharks, via YouTube, with thanks

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