Posted in match reports

View from the off-season: 2022-23 preview

I was there, you know. Up in the gods at HQ, about a mile from the pitch when George sent the ball back inside from the left wing, fell over and didn’t get back up.

Am I just being overly sensitive or is there a tendency for big-name signings for Sale to get crocked before the start of the season[1]?

Now I look back at those reports from last season where I was looking forward to the exciting prospect of a Quirke/Ford axis and think, “bugger”. You could spin the disappointment by saying that maybe it’s time for Curtis and Wilkinson to step up and show what they can do. After all, look at what Reed and Roebuck achieved once they were shown that the coaches trusted them.

And, yes, let’s do that: let’s start Wilko or Curtis, put Simpson inside them as a wise head and see how they respond to the trust. They may pleasantly surprise us.

“Always look on the bright side of life”… but it’s still disappointing that we have to wait for half the season before our key signing gets the chance to show us what he can do.

But let’s park that disappointment and see what we do have to look forward to.

Ford is not the only significant signing: let’s not forget that a certain J Hill and T O’Flaherty have arrived from Exeter Chiefs[2], along with Joe Simpson and Jason Woodward to bring experienced heads at scrum half and full back, respectively.

Jonny Hill is the only forward we’ve brought in, and he will have to go some to make up for the loss of JP, Lood and James Phillips, especially since he’s likely to be missing with England for half the year. We need Josh Beaumont fit again, otherwise we’re worryingly short in the second row. Barrow and Poss flesh out the row, but I suspect we’ll be calling on Jean-Luc to take a turn again, which I doubt will best please him, given that he’s made it clear that he wants to play back row. It may be time for Rouban Birch to step up to the mark and make a name for himself.

Joe Jones [? – I’ve seen reports that he’s gone, others that he’s still around. UPDATE: looks like he’s still with us.], Cam Neild and Curtis Langdon don’t have external replacements, but I do expect James Harper to be asked to make the step up from the academy. If he does half as well as Bev did, that’ll be a big help.

In the backs, Tom O’Flaherty comes in as a genuine addition to the strength on the wings. Technically, we lost Denny and Marland during last season but, practically, we lost Denny a couple of seasons ago, so I think that loss has already been absorbed. Flats, I think, fills the role that Yarde occupied – the one who goes looking for work and gets in your face – but brings additional pace that Marland was lacking. Add in the emergence of Reed and Roebuck as genuine pacy options and I’m comfortable in saying that wing is one area that we have strengthened over the last year.

Woodward for Hammersley seems to be a straight one-for-one replacement. I don’t know enough about Woodward to be able to say whether that’s an area of improvement or not.

On the face of it, Faf out and Simpson in is a downgrade but, as I’ve said before, I prefer to see Faf’s departure as the apotheosis of Raffi and a move up the ladder for Warr and Thomas. Raffi’s injury buggers up the script a bit, so I see Simpson as someone with a bit of nous who can step in to keep things going while we get through (yet another!) season opening without our first-choice half-backs.

I’ve commented above about the fly-half situation: although I’d love to see Wilko and Curtis be given the reins, I’m not going to bet against Alex going with the safe option of Rob at 10, at least early on.

That leaves the centres and the loss of Rohan is going to hurt. Manu will be away, either with England or on the recovery table, and that means we’re pretty much hoping that Sam Hill makes a reappearance with all cylinders firing. Doherty looks a good prospect and Metcalfe [ED: oops. Forgot that he’d left a while back], Gourlay and Bedlow are waiting in the wings (so to speak) but are they really ready for the big time?

You could compare the list of leavers with the arrivals and get worried about the disparity of numbers but, if you look at the same lists for all the other clubs, you’ll see the same thing: something like twice as many leaving as coming in. It’s just a natural consequence of the reduction of the salary cap.

I mean, I feel for those players who now find themselves in limbo but look at what’s happening at Wasps and Worcester (and a couple of other clubs?): the status quo ante was unsustainable. The new one may be as well – there’s an economic crisis happening; it’s going to get worse and a lot of people will suffer.

I confess to still not having much of a handle on the women’s side of the club. I recognise a few players but the lack of general media coverage of the game makes it harder to get up to speed on who’s who.

I know we’ve lost Beth Stafford, Daisy Hibbert-Jones and Molly Kelly. I thought I saw something about Jodie Ounsley going, but I can’t find it again. That’s a blow, if true. Unfortunately, the offy is not much help as the squad lists look hopelessly out of date: both men’s and women’s.

They’ve recently announced some signings, though, including a couple (more) Americans and an Italian international. Carly Waters is a US scrum half: she played for Saracens last season – I’ve seen them play and they’re good, so she should be a welcome addition. I confess I know nothing about Alicia Washington, except that the press report refers to her as ‘towering’. So, a forward, I’m guessing. Other forwards joining are Italian Sara Tournesi and Kay Searcy, formerly of Wasps.

Three other forwards have also been signed: Iona Antwiss (England under–20), Niamh Swales at hooker (under–18) and prop Sophie Jones.

Rounding off the signings is fly half/centre Cara Cookland. Again, I know nothing about her.

It’s good to see so many forwards coming as the pack was, to my mind, the main area of concern last season.

You can see Carly Waters in some of the pictures here. She’s the redhead who looks like a scrum-half (the one looking to tackle Vicky Irwin in the first picture).

I think Alicia Washington might be the one on the far left here.

So, that’s it. A season of potential turmoil all around. These are uncertain times for everyone and rugby clubs are not immune from the vicissitudes of fate. Let’s just hope that, bumpy as the ride may be, we all survive to come out the other side. “Interesting times” ahead…

  1. assuming they even turn up…  ↩

  2. I’m prepared to acknowledge their nickname this season since they’ve dropped the culturally insensitive imagery.  ↩



Photographer and science geek. Rugby fan (Sale Sharks).