With the news that Sale Sharks fly-half AJ MacGinty is set to miss the next 12 weeks of the season in order to undergo shoulder surgery, the club from the north-west are down to the bare bones at the position.
As the American international moves to the sidelines for the immediate future, Sale are left without out a single pure fly-half in their senior squad, although both James O’Connor and Sam James are capable over covering the position.
The club may well look to bring in someone as an injury joker, but they also have an intriguing option in their senior academy, in playmaker Kieran Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, 19, was given a professional contract this past summer after impressing for Sale U18s last season, as well as making his senior club debut in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. He made his European bow on Friday night, starting at 10 for Sale away at Perpignan, a match that Wilkinson impressed in and helped guide his side to a 41-24 victory at Stade Aime Giral.
A skilful and aggressive fly-half, Wilkinson is not afraid to back himself with the ball in hand and is another member of the recent explosion of ambitious young playmakers attempting to break into the English game. Stylistically, he is not too dissimilar to Sale’s former fly-half, Danny Cipriani.
Working against Wilkinson will be the step up that is required defensively at the position at the senior level and the fact that the winter months are coming, something which always seems to hit harder in the north-west. Combined with a precarious position near the foot of the Gallagher Premiership table, it would be an understandable call if the club went with a more seasoned option in James or O’Connor, or even brought in a medical joker.
That said, it is not their only choice.
Sale have been proactive in bringing through young players in recent years, with both Cam Redpath and Luke James breaking through last season, as well as the Curry twins both making a significant impact in their first seasons out of school.
With the Premiership becoming a more attack-focused competition and games opening up, as contests are regularly decided by the teams that can score more tries than the opposition, rather than squeeze out penalties, the pendulum starts to swing back in favour of Wilkinson.
Given that he would have Faf de Klerk inside him at nine, a player that Wilkinson’s attacking game would suit, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg outside of him at 12, an invaluable pressure valve, maybe the selection of Wilkinson is not quite the risk it would be at a number of other clubs.
Sale are not in a position to challenge this season for the title or likely even the top four, so laying the ground work for future campaigns would seem to be a savvy move.
With Redpath still some time away from making his comeback from an ACL reconstruction, Wilkinson could be looking at some valuable playing time over the coming months.
In other news: The Rugby Pod chat about the latest transfer rumours.
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