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Sale Sharks: BTSport.com's Gallagher Premiership 2019/20 season preview

Having narrowly missed out on not only a top six finish but also a semi-final berth, Sale will be looking to continue their upward trajectory as they also return to the Champions Cup.

Last season's Gallagher Premiership finish: 7th (W11 D2 L9 - Pts 55)

This season's target: A top-six finish, with the top four not too far away

Last season's top try scorer: Denny Solomona (12)

Odds to win the Premiership: 33/1 (odds correct at time of writing)

First four fixtures: Gloucester (H) London Irish (A), Bristol (A), Wasps (H)

Transfers in: Jake Cooper-Woolley (Wasps), Robert du Preez (Sharks), Akker van der Merwe (Sharks), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), Dan du Preez (Sharks), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks), Simon Hammersley (Newcastle Falcons), Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons), Embrose Papier (Bulls)

Transfers out: Andrei Ostrikov (Grenoble), Mark Jennings (sabbatical), Alexandru Tarus (Zebre), Jonny Leota (Sale FC), Tom Bristow (released), James Flynn (Yorkshire Carnegie), Paolo Odogwu (Wasps), James O'Connor (Queensland Reds), Josh Strauss (Bulls), George Nott (London Irish), Ewan Ashman (Edinburgh)

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Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Sale season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

Bath | Bristol Bears | Exeter ChiefsGloucester | Harlequins | Leicester Tigers | London Irish | Northampton Saints | Saracens | Wasps | Worcester Warriors

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The story of last season

Four defeats in their opening five matches put the Sharks in a precarious position at the start of last season and suggested a difficult nine months to follow.

But an upturn in form that saw them lose just once in the Premiership from the end of September through to the middle of February helped ease those nerves.

That run included a 24-18 victory at home to champions Saracens, perhaps their result of the season, and saw them rise from the foot of the table to fourth by the end of 2018.

The AJ Bell continued to be a profitable hunting ground with significant wins over Harlequins and Gloucester in the second half of the campaign proving pivotal.

The final day 46-41 triumph over the Cherry & Whites, who finished third, ensured Sale would end their two-year absence from the Champions Cup.

A seventh-place finish also demonstrated tangible progress, building on eighth and 10th spots from the previous two years.

Tom Curry’s emergence for both club and country was also a huge plus, with the flanker named Land Rover Discovery of the Season for his displays.

The 21-year-old penned a contract extension in January and Steve Diamond will hope to continue his development beyond the end of his current deal in 2023.

Hopes for this season

Boosted by several summer arrivals, Diamond will look to continue the development of his side who will no doubt have their eyes fixed on a top-six finish.

Having finished just a point behind Northampton, Harlequins and Bath in 2018/19 there is certainly room for optimism that they could even break into the top four.

Key to that will be improving their form on the road having only won twice in the Premiership away from the AJ Bell last season – at Gloucester and Wasps.

Of course winning any game in England’s top flight is difficult but having come so close securing a semi-final berth there is sure to be some sense of a missed opportunity.

Likewise only relegated Newcastle Falcons picked up fewer bonus points for tries scored than the Sharks and offer two clear areas where improvements can be made.

Having reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup last time out, a run in Europe’s premier cup competition this time around would be hugely positive for the club.

Balancing the demands of European and domestic rugby does bring its difficulties however and Diamond’s squad will be tested as they look to compete on all fronts.

Rugby World Cup absentees

Valery Morozov, Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson and AJ MacGinty.

Key man: Faf de Klerk

Having been named Supporters’ Player of the Season in each of the last two seasons, the locals certainly know the importance of de Klerk.

The scrum-half has been showing his talents on the international stage of late, starting two of South Africa’s pool-stage matches in the World Cup.

Those two matches have been in their toughest tests to date, against New Zealand and Italy, suggesting he will play a prominent part in their quest for a third crown.

He has without doubt been a central figure to all that has been good at Sale since his arrival in the summer of 2017 – going on to be nominated for the Premiership player of the season in his first campaign.

While there are many contenders, his standout display came in the aforementioned 28-17 victory over Harlequins where he was in the thick of the action.

Quins began the brighter with Mike Brown opening the scoring on three minutes and Danny Care looked set to build on the visitors’ seven-point advantage until de Klerk’s intervention.

Some brilliant last-ditch defending held up his opposite number over the line and helped swing the momentum back in Sharks’ favour.

Those match-defining moments have become his trademark and once his adventure in Japan is over, we are sure to see plenty more in the Premiership once again.

One to watch: Cameron Redpath

Redpath hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the summer as he was handed a six-week ban for biting an opponent during the World U20 Championships.

The 19-year-old admitted biting hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin in England’s 30-23 fifth-place play-off semi-final win over Ireland in June.

The son of former Scotland international Bryan Redpath escaped the usual 12-week punishment because World Rugby took his “previously clean record, early acceptance of his conduct, apology, youth and inexperience” into consideration.

Following a summer to forget, the centre will be focussing on breaking into the Sale first team and has already made two appearance this season.

He started the 24-20 win over Wasps and come off the bench against London Irish last weekend in the early rounds of the Premiership Rugby Cup.

Have represented the Sharks 15 times already you get the sense this could be a coming-of-age season for a player that has already been called up to a full England squad.

Eddie Jones selected him, along with seven other uncapped players, to train with the squad ahead of the 2018 summer tour of South Africa.

An anterior cruciate ligament injury cruelly meant he could not be part of the touring party and forced him to miss a large part of last season.

So with something to prove and a desire to make up for lost time he will certainly be one to watch.

Upcoming Premiership fixtures live on BT Sport

08/11/2019 - Sale Sharks v Wasps (7pm, BT Sport 1 HD)

03/01/2020 - Sale Sharks v Harlequins (7.45pm kick off)

Find out all of our games chosen for live coverage across the first eight rounds, with 22 matches being shown on TV before the end of 2019.

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