Sale boss Steve Diamond has revealed the radical change he ordered his players to make to stop a blizzard of penalties undermining their bid to win the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership title. A thumping 40-7 win over Bristol on Saturday allowed the Sharks to regain second place from the Bears who were missing key players and unable to match the power of opponents who ran in six tries to grab a bonus point. 

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A key factor in the success was Sale’s new attitude to the breakdown where only three players were allowed by the coach to compete for the ball – Tom and Ben Curry and hooker Akker van der Merwe.

Diamond decided to change the way Sale attacked the Premiership breakdown after conceding 40 penalties in the restart losses to Harlequins and Exeter, and they are now back in the title race following wins over Wasps and Bristol. 

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“A week ago when I said we were out of the title race we had given 40 penalties away in two games,” he explained. “I told the players we were out of it if we carried on like that and we decided that Tom and Ben Curry and Akker van der Merwe were the only guys allowed to go for the ball at the breakdown and everyone else stays on their feet. 

We asked the players to do a job when we saw Bristol’s selection and if we keep performing then we will be in with a shout at the end of the season. We didn’t need to put in a superstar performance in the second half today, we just needed to win the game.”

Captain Ben Curry, who put in a massive shift alongside twin brother Tom, fully backed the change in attitude to the breakdown. He said: “It’s fine and you just have to do your job. Mine, Tom and Akker’s natural style of play is to go for the ball.

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“It’s not complicated – it’s simple and you just play your game. I enjoyed playing with Tom and we’re very competitive. It’s natural to just spur each other on either in training or the game. When you have played with each other for 22 years you can’t help doing that and it’s like Jean-Luc and Dan (the du Preez twins), you have those combinations and it just feels right because you know what each other is doing.”

Diamond believes the presence of three sets of brothers in his starting XV – the Curry, du Preez and James siblings – can give Sale a crucial edge. “We have three sets of brothers in the same team on a regular basis and the two sets of twins are special. 

“But the way Sam and Luke (James) play and their understanding of the game is on a different level. They are error-free most of the time and Luke is an all-action hero to me. He’s one of the best players Sale have ever had and never makes errors.”

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