Sale Sharks aiming for Premiership season unbeaten at home

By Nathan MiddletonBBC Sport
Sale Sharks players
Sale have lost once in 14 games in all competitions at home this season

In no sport does your home ground seem to be more of an advantage than it does in rugby union. And in no club has this been more prevalent than at that Sale Sharks this season.

Unbeaten in 10 Premiership games so far at the AJ Bell Stadium, if they avoid defeat against Gloucester on Friday they will have gone the entire league campaign without losing in front of their own fans.

The Manchester-based side were the only unbeaten team at home in Europe until the start of April before Montpellier won there in the Challenge Cup.

Not since Gloucester five seasons ago has a team gone a season without defeat at home in the league, so how have Sale done it?

Home sweet home

Premiership home table

Friday night rugby at Edgeley Park, Sale's previous home, saw most teams struggle to come away with points from Stockport.

When the Sharks relocated to what was then then the Salford City Stadium in 2012, they lost their first three games and won just one of their opening five in the Premiership.

"When Sale moved, it wasn't an advantage at all because it was as new to them as it was to the opposition," said the Manchester Evening News Sale reporter Neil Leigh.

"The longer they've been there the longer they've grown into it - they train there, they do kicking practice there which is crucial as the wind can create absolute havoc.

"It works in their advantage now and they revel in it. It's a place opposition sides do not like to come."

Whether the weather be good

Weather at the AJ Bell Stadium
Against Wasps (left) the two teams had to contend with sideways sleet, while the players had to leave the pitch because of a lightning storm against Leicester

If you put 'rainy city' into your generic search engine, Manchester rivals Seattle for the title of world's rainiest city.

However, with Cardiff and Leeds getting more rainfall over the year according to the Met Office perhaps this is a little unfair.

That said, the microclimate at Sale's stadium in Barton, next to the Manchester Ship Canal, has seen a variety of weather not just during the season but over the course of a match.

"It is quite unique in the way the wind comes," fly-half Danny Cipriani told BBC Sport. "We can kick their at team run and it will be blowing a completely different direction to the next day.

Danny Cipriani
Danny Cipriani has scored 490 points at the AJ Bell Stadium over his four-year stay

"It works in our favour sometimes as you see these great goal kickers come down to stadium and miss kicks they wouldn't normally miss.

"I remember when I was younger coming up north to play away in Manchester it was always a hard fixture - I think we've really cemented the AJ Bell to being a stadium where teams don't like playing against us."

'We could bottle it'

Since switching to playing the majority of their home games on a Saturday over the past two seasons, Sale have won 16 of their 21 games in the Premiership at home, with Harlequins' 25-23 win in April 2015 the last time they lost.

The Sharks have not had it completely their own way with draws against Newcastle and Saracens, but director of rugby Steve Diamond believes it is his squad rather than the surroundings that has contributed to the record.

AJ Bell Stadium
Sale share the AJ Bell Stadium with rugby league side Salford Red Devils

"If we knew what it [the reason for being undefeated] was we could bottle it couldn't we?" he said. "I'd say we've got a really good team if I'm honest and the piece of grass is irrelevant to us.

"We like the stadium, we know it, we train there, we understand it and for some reason teams don't like coming to it, and I don't know what that is.

"The pitch is fantastic as are the changing facilities and everything around it. We've got a job to do in building crowds over the next year or so to help fill it but we can't do more than keep winning.

"Apart from Saracens, Exeter and Wasps, who are the form teams, tell me which teams win regularly away from home? Not many."