Sale Sharks have been throwing the proverbial cat among the Gallagher Premiership pigeons this week, having their players return to limited training on Monday in advance of their English top-flight rivals.

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This manoeuvre was at odds with the other eleven Premiership clubs who were waiting for Wednesday’s key professional game board working group meeting – which involves the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players Association – before deciding on their collective approach to a training date return. 

This situation was described by a leading official to RugbyPass as a “shambles” with Premiership Rugby’s leadership – or lack of it – over the issue of when clubs can start the complicated return to play protocols central to this smouldering discontent.

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The return to training, though, isn’t the only area where Sale’s thinking is seemingly different from the rest of the Premiership. Whereas the consensus seems to be that the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign will eventually be played out behind closed doors at a centralised venue, Sale have alternatively suggested matches could yet go ahead in Manchester with even their season ticket holders present. 

In an update circulated by email to supporters, Sale stated: “We are still hopeful of being able to complete the league this season. We are staying in regular contact with Premiership Rugby and our fellow clubs, and we are in discussions with the government regarding when we can start playing and spectators will be allowed to attend games.

“As soon as more information on the current season is available, we will be in touch to let you know. One possibility might be that only season ticket holders can attend while still socially distancing, but we need to wait and see what happens in the weeks ahead. 

“If we find that season ticket holders can’t attend the games, we will come up with a number of options for how we can compensate for this, but while everything remains so up in the air, we sincerely thank you for your understanding and patience.”

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While Twickenham and Ricoh Arena were initially mooted as centralised venues to stage the remaining matches, Bristol have now nominated Ashton Gate as a contender to complete the fixtures backlog. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, CEO Mark Tainton said: “We think we meet all of the criteria they were asking for. Ashton Gate is a tremendous stadium. It’s a new stadium, we have all new facilities, large changing rooms and easy access for the camera equipment required.

“Premiership Rugby has asked clubs if they’re willing to volunteer or offer their stadium as a venue and we believe we have the facilities to do that, so that’s why we’ve put it forward.

“It’s not a done deal yet – we’re in the pile with another couple of clubs – so we’re just waiting to get more feedback and potentially a visit or information from Premiership Rugby Limited for whatever criteria we need to meet.”

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