Hammersley signing could complete Sale Sharks’ charge to the top
Reportedly the latest target to fall between Steve Diamond’s crosshairs, Newcastle Falcons fullback Simon Hammersley could be the final piece of the jigsaw for Sale Sharks’ hill charge
There was a moment, however brief, over the last four years when Sale Sharks were looking set to become the latest side to establish themselves as regular playoff contenders. Finishing in sixth place during the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons with now Gloucester mastermind Danny Cipriani at the helm, the side hailing from one of the most famous footballing cities in the world were cause for many to sit up and pay attention. Given their successful rate of producing home-grown talent, the odd pundit and fan were touting them to go on to great things.
Alas, for Diamond and Sharks this was not to be the case. During the summer of 2016, Sale saw both Cipriani and prospective England hooker Tommy Taylor move to Wasps. Two of the Sharks’ best players would join another former Sale star in Rob Miller; the man that finished the 2011/12 season as the league’s top try-scorer in his second season with Sale after joining from fellow northerners Newcastle Falcons in 2010.
Lyon number eight Carl Fearns and Bath tighthead prop Henry Thomas stand as two further examples of the quality Sale have leaked over the last few years. Leaks that saw some of their best home-grown talent and top young signings alike stretch their legs for larger, higher-paying sides.
But in the theoretical signing of Newcastle fullback Simon Hammersley, as reported by The Rugby Paper’s Neil Fissler last Sunday, Sale could find themselves with as many pieces of the jigsaw as they’ve had since their 2006 title.
The Sharks’ backline suffers no shortage of firepower or stardom - with Faf de Klerk, James O’Connor, Chris Ashton, Denny Solomona and Rohan Janse van Rensberg clogging up the lineup – but their pack has been short of both big hitters and depth over the last half decade. However, in the blockbuster signings of Springbok quartet Akker van de Merwe (hooker), Coenie Oosthuizen (tighthead prop), Lood de Jager (second row) and both du Preez twins (backrowers), Sale are set to enjoy vastly improved fortunes. And most importantly, provide their exceptionally talented backline with a reliable platform.
However, even with their pack brimming with over 100 South African caps and a backline fit to burst with attacking potential, they have continued to operate without a true fullback. Recalled England winger Ashton may have spent a year there for Toulon, but he is no true fullback. Neither are either of the James brothers, Sam and Luke, both are centres capable of slotting into the fly-half slot and are makeshift fifteens at best.
In a dour season for the Falcons, Hammersley has been a shining light; one of few. The Hull native has been one of the most reliable fullbacks in the league for some years up at Kingston Park and is currently enjoying career-best attacking form. Hammersley has finished the regular season having claimed the second-highest number of running metres at 1490; second only to Northampton Saints’ giant Wallaby wing Taqele Naiyaravoro on 1532 metres run.
But Hammersley’s running metres will not be the reason Diamond is showing interest. No, it is Hammerley’s reliability that will have sparked Diamond’s alleged interest. To get the best out of the predatorial try-scoring pairing of Solomona and Ashton on either wing, Sale need a rock solid fullback with ample experience at the highest level. Given the number of stars in Diamond’s backline listed above, Hammersley’s steady hand would bring a welcome balance to the unit headed up by de Klerk and his often hair-raising brand of rugby.
Transplanting the assured presence Hammersley has provided Newcastle over the last six years into Sale’s backfield would more than likely allow the Ashtons and de Klerks of Sale’s backline to fully squeeze every last drop from the platform de Jager, captain Jono Ross and England openside Tom Curry are surely set to provide next season.