Steve Diamond makes plans for a new era at Sale Sharks

By Nathan MiddletonBBC Radio Manchester
Sale Sharks
The new look Sale Sharks squad are back in pre-season training

When Sale run out for the first fixture of the 2011/12 season against Worcester at Sixways in September, it may take some Sharks fans a few moments to acquaint themselves with their team.

Director of sport Steve Diamond has completely overhauled an under-achieving squad which has endured wretched back-to-back seasons in which they have fought to avoid relegation from the Premiership.

Diamond returned to the club he played for and coached, in January, after a spell in charge of the Russia national side, to oversee all rugby-related matters.

The 42-year-old spent the back end of last season and the summer overhauling the Sharks squad, the back-room staff and renovating the club's Carrington training base.

"We did an audit ourselves. I did it for [chief executive] Mick Hogan and [owner] Brian Kennedy, and I came back with the recommendations," Diamond said.

"We've gone with nine out of 10 of those recommendations, which is wholesale change.

"If you look at the squad, it's been bumbling around at the bottom of the league for three years; it's not as if it's been a blip.

"History tells us now that winning it [the Premiership] was a blip.

"So what we're going to do is build some consistency, get a good hard edge to us, a bit of Northern grit as they say, and let's see how many people want to come to Edgeley Park."

The former director of rugby at Saracens and head of recruitment at Northampton joined the club a month after Mike Brewer had been sacked as head coach and Kingsley Jones was in the process of leaving.

That followed the disappointment of the previous season, when Jason Robinson's tenure as head coach saw them narrowly avoid the drop.

Diamond immediately set about recruiting, as well as allowing some big-name players to leave, including Chris Jones, Ben Cohen and Charlie Hodgson.

He arrived after Hodgson had signed a deal with Saracens but, despite losing the Premiership's all-time leading points scorer, he is happy with his current fly-half options.

"Our situation is we've got Tasesa Lavea, the Samoan 10, and Nick Macleod, so we're not looking for a front-line fly-half," he said.

"We've got young Rob Miller as well who has come to the fore at training. They know it's a clean sweep here and I think Nick and Rob especially are head and shoulders at the moment in training.

"We're in negotiations at the moment with two or three players and it's just a case of dotting the I's and crossing the T's really, and over the next two to three weeks they should be announced.

"We're looking for a full-back, a centre and then a utility player more so than a fly-half."

Sale captain and England winger Mark Cueto, who was part of the Sale team that won the Premiership in 2006, has seen the club struggle since that triumph.

Mark Cueto
Cueto is currently with the England squad preparing for the World Cup

The 31-year-old is currently with the England squad preparing for the World Cup but believes there is now a different atmosphere at his club after five seasons of disappointments.

"I'm hopefully going to be away quite a bit over the next few months so it's important to try and keep my foot in the door here and keep up to speed with what's happening," Cueto said.

"There is a buzz and excitement and that comes with Dimes [Steve Diamond] being the main catalyst for that.

"He's changed the facilities, half of the squad is new and 90% of the staff, the coaching staff, the conditioning staff, even the chef.

"I'm away with England at the minute, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, but at the same time there is a part of me itching to get back here and get involved in everything that is going on."

The personal element involved in the job for Diamond, who made 290 appearances at the club as a player, is obvious, and he is demanding an improvement in standards throughout the club.

After retiring, his first coaching experience came at Sale in 2001, where he worked alongside current Northampton director of rugby, Jim Mallinder.

During that spell they led the Sharks to second place in the Premiership and victory in the European Challenge Cup.

But Diamond wants a return to Europe's elite competition, the Heineken Cup, as the minimum goal for the new season.

"I think we need to get in the Heineken Cup so that is the target the team has been set," he said.

"I think all the senior players agreed with that and we want to be playing in the big competition."