After a storming start to the Gallagher Premiership season and on the back of the run to the final of the same competition last season, Sale Sharks are looking for big things in this year’s Investec Champions Cup, a competition which they haven’t quite managed to master yet.
A quarter-final is the best Sale Sharks have managed so far, albeit three times. The first was back in 2006, the year they lifted their only Premiership title, when they boasted a squad littered with England stars, such as Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto, as well as France’s Sébastien Chabal. However, they came up short in the Heineken Cup, losing 11-6 at Biarritz Olympique. They also made the last eight in both pandemic-affected editions, losing at eventual runners-up Stade Rochelais 45-21 in 2021 and 41-22 at Racing 92 in 2022.
Hopes were high after hammering Ulster Rugby 39-0 at home in the opening match, but the back-to-back defeats against Stade Toulousain were sobering, before Ulster Rugby exacted revenge at Ravenhill with a 22-11 win that consigned Sale Sharks to the EPCR Challenge Cup. There they succumbed 28-27 in the Round of 16 at Cardiff Rugby.
After a World Cup in which many thought he ought to have usurped Owen Farrell as England’s starting fly-half, Ford is playing some of the best rugby of his career. An Achilles injury delayed his debut for Sale Sharks until earlier this year, but he was instrumental in their run to the Premiership final at the end of last season.
Sale Sharks lost both their first-choice hookers in the close season and had already prepared with the signing of veteran Argentinian Agustin Creevy. Then when Montpellier pulled out of signing England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, Sale Sharks swooped.
The Sharks kick off their Investec Champions Cup campaign against Stade Francais on Sunday 10th December and then travel to face Leinster Rugby at the RDS Arena in round two.