Sale boss Steve Diamond has warned his mis-firing team they have to halt their damaging losing run by defeating Wasps at the Ricoh Arena tomorrow night, or face the prospect of becoming also-rans this season. Sale were pushing leaders Exeter hard before the lockdown but defeats by Harlequins and the Chiefs have seen Diamond’s men drop down to fourth – one place behind Wasps – who have put together a pandemic-interrupted run of five successive bonus point victories.

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With restrictions imposed on the number of minutes players can be on the pitch during this hectic period of the season, Sale will make wholesale changes against Wasps with captain Jono Ross taking a break and Ben Curry leading the team out in a match they must win.

Diamond is concerned by Sale’s high penalty count after single figure performances helped them move into the top two of the Premiership and with 23 conceded against Exeter, he is urging his players to get smarter at the breakdown.

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That could be a problem against Wasps who have shown in recent weeks an ability to compete with real intensity and success at the ruck, with Jack Willis and Thomas Young either stealing ball or winning penalties.

After tomorrow’s match Diamond’s men have Bristol at home, struggling Leicester away and then entertain Saracens and play-off chasing Bath.

“We have a job to do,” Diamond said. “We have dropped two places in two matches and if that continues we are out of the title race. We need to bring a sharp halt to that decline and pick up some points.

“My analysis is very simple. We were averaging nine penalties a match in the last three years and we are averaging 18 at the moment. Either we have had a complete disregard for the laws of the game or there is a problem with interpretation.

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“Last week we gave away seven penalties (against Exeter) at the breakdown yet we got six turnovers. I don’t think the risk and reward for my team is high enough to keep doing it.

“I am not going to win games unless we are under 10 penalties and I have two areas; the scrum where I have six international props giving away four penalties every game, which is unacceptable, and another 25 per cent of penalties coming from drives.

“Across the board our endeavour and skill has to change and we have had a good chat about it.

“If we can get under 10 penalties then we can get some momentum and let’s be honest, the first 40 minutes we did get momentum and were on top of the best team in the competition.

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“The reason we couldn’t keep it going was because of those errors in law. It is about learning about the hoof.”

Sale are recovering at their new training facility which used to belong to Manchester City and Diamond added: “We have this new facility (at Carrington) with the hot and cold baths and swimming pools so they are being pampered a bit to be honest.

“We will be putting a different team out and not many of the line up would have played many minutes last week. They had Saturday off and today just doing an extended team run and brushing up on what we need to do.”

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