In barely six minutes holding court in the Sale Sharks media lounge, Steve Diamond delivered a caustic savaging of teams who rest their top players when European hopes wane, insisted Leone Nakarawa would not join the club because it is “too cold” for the Fijian lock, and “joked” he hoped never to see referee Mathieu Raynal and his team of “b******s” in Manchester again after they oversaw a ferociously competitive Champions Cup loss to Exeter Chiefs.
The final comment, which the director of rugby stressed was in jest, he justified with his belief that people have grown bored of bland post-match exchanges. A Diamond press conference could never be considered dull, but whether EPCR, the tournament organisers, will take the same view as the director of rugby is another matter entirely.
The former hooker is by turns bombastic, intimidating and divisive. His disciplinary rap sheet is long and ugly. In recent seasons, he has been sanctioned for abusing match officials, publicly accusing a referee of “making decisions up”, and pushing an opposition staff member, and has also made derisory remarks about concussion protocols.
Last year, Diamond was involved in a particularly unsightly altercation with a journalist who had written a withering piece painting the coach as domineering and out of touch, offering the reporter outside a press room where part of the bizarre row was caught on film.
His ire was provoked primarily by Raynal’s decisions not to award Sale two penalty tries as they battled for a route back into a Pool 2 game they eventually lost 22-20. First, when a very promising Sharks maul was brought crashing to ground deep in the Chiefs 22, then when his pack won several scrum penalties on the visitors’ line, but were adjudged to have infringed themselves at the set-piece that followed.
“Our driving maul is good,” Diamond said. “I’ve got to be very careful how I say it, but how we can turn the corner from a driving line-out nine metres out and a guy comes in and tackles it and it’s not a yellow card, penalty try, I don’t know.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 8, 2019
There was a supreme irony in this remark, for having begun in such diplomatic fashion, any pretence of sensitivity was obliterated by what Diamond said next, when a reporter asked what he had said to Raynal in the minutes after the final whistle.
“I just said, ‘Good game’,” Diamond replied, deadpan. “I said, ‘You’ve had a fantastic game, your touch judges had a brilliant game’. Hopefully that’ll go through to their assessors – and we’ll never see the b******s again in Manchester.”
As the chortling ensued, he threw his hands up.
“Joke! Joke, joke, joke. I just get this feeling these days people want more character in the room, not just yes and no questions, so we’re only having a bit of fun.”
The defeat leaves Sale third in the pool, two points behind Glasgow Warriors and eight adrift of unbeaten Exeter. On next weekend’s return fixture at Sandy Park, Diamond got the machine gun out again.
“If we play like that, it’ll be a close game,” he said. “I might just send my kids down, I don’t know yet. That’s what other teams are doing, aren’t they? I might just send my Under-19s down and let Exeter go through. We’ll have a think.”
Clearly, this frequent waving of the white flag is a gross affront to Diamond’s bristling nature and his desire to pit himself and his players against Europe’s best.
“I don’t do it,” he continued. “Yeah, it does, obviously [devalue the competition]. You work hard the season before to get in the competition; you’ve got to respect it.”
It is generally wise to take Diamond’s word on recruitment with a pinch of salt, given his reputation for flatly denying rumours which turn out to be true. He had been eager to sign Nakarawa, sacked by Racing 92 this week, with Josh Beaumont and Lood de Jager injured long-term.
Instead, since former Glasgow lock Nakarawa is apparently too sensitive to face another British winter, back-row brothers Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez will be asked to fill the void while the search for injury cover continues. The former sibling is serving a suspension having been sent-off against Worcester Warriors last week; the latter recovering from injury.
“We’ll put it to bed, the Fijian lad won’t come to England because the weather’s too cold – it’s not money,” Diamond said. “We’re looking, but to be fair, there’s not many about at this time of year.
“So we’ve got young Matt Posltethwaite, Bryn Evans, Phillsy [James Phillips]. One Du Preez got sent off, one got injured, they’ll be back in the next few weeks, so they’ll be spending the next three months of their lives at lock, I think.”
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