The final month of an unprecedented year has seen Cobus Wiese face the shock exit of Steve Diamond, Sale Shark’s director of rugby, suffer three successive defeats and experience snow for the first time in his life.
Normally, Wiese and his family are enjoying a summer festive period in South Africa and while he was dealing with a winter Christmas Day temperature of 4C in Manchester it was 24C in Cape Town where he impressed for Western Province and the Stormers to earn a chance to join an 11 strong contingent of his fellow countrymen at Sale. “I saw snow falling for the first time two days ago and that was special,” said Wiese, whose older brother Jasper has made a big impact at No.8 for Leicester this season.
The Sale squad was put together by Diamond who stunned the sport by leaving Sale at the start of December with Paul Deacon given temporary control. There has been no “bounce” from a change at the top with Sale losing successive Heineken Champions Cup matches to Toulon and Edinburgh and they allowed Wasps to register a 26-23 win at the AJ Bell Stadium which makes their trip to Gloucester on Saturday a chance to make a much-needed winning start the New Year.
When Wiese saw his proposed move to Saracens torpedoed by the London club’s relegation to the Championship, he took advice from Rob du Preez, one of the key figures at Sale, and signed. The 23-year-old can play lock or flanker and is seen as a key ball carrier in a muscular Sale pack built to maintain their position as one of the strongest squads in the Gallagher Premiership.
Despite those three defeats, Sale are in fourth place in the Premiership having been denied the chance of a play-off place last season when a raft of positive COVID-19 tests meant they could not take on Worcester in the final fixture. With Diamond driving the club forward, Sale – currently operating without long term injuries Lood de Jager and Manu Tuilagi – appeared to be equipped to roll confidently into the new season.
Diamond’s exit has become the obvious reason for December’s losses and Wiese said: “It did have an impact but not enough that we can use it as an excuse. We are determined to turn things around because we have World class players in our squad.
“You can either look at it as a negative or a massive opportunity and once we get our rhythm we can do something special this year. With everything that has happened we are really focused on creating an identity for ourselves. It is never easy to lose three games on the trot and we know we are good enough. We are ready to work hard and there is no lack in commitment and there is a massive opportunity going forward.
“Against Wasps, Jono Ross (club captain) said it was as if we went into our shells in that second half when they scored two tries but we were only four points behind. It is about making a change as a collective and it’s not nice to lose three games on the trot but we have the right mindset and actions will speak louder than words.
“I had the thought of coming over to the UK when I got an offer from Saracens and then they got relegated. I had a two-year deal with them which would have meant just one year in the Premiership which would have been a short time to make a name for yourself in the country. Sale gave me an offer and I spoke to Rob du Preez and asked about the club and he said it was top notch and all of the South African’s here made my decision easier.”
With 11 South Africans in the Sale dressing room, ensuring that their first language – Afrikaans – does not become a divisive factor is something that has been addressed by the entire squad. Wiese explained: “It is about respect and it is quite selfish to speak a language other players don’t understand and coming from Upington I could do with sharpening up my English! It is nice having guys reminding you not to speak Afrikaans around the English guys and we have addressed it.
“Afrikaans is our first language and sometimes on the TV when they are covering a game you can hear Afrikaans being spoken. Against Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup there were South African players in their team and our lock James Phillips said that at one stage he felt he was in a South African competition!“
Despite his own physical size, Wiese gives away height to both Lood de Jager and JP du Preez, the latest arrival at Sale from South Africa who is almost 7ft and played alongside Jasper Wise at the Cheetahs. “I didn’t get to pay against JP in South Africa and only faced Lood once when he was at the Bulls. I am really excited to get the chance to play alongside them here at Sale.”
Wiese still has plenty of development to make in his game and hopes to attract the attention of the Springbok selectors by making an impact in the Premiership, particularly with the World Cup holders defending their title in France in 2023.
Wiese added: “South African players are known for the physical battle but you can develop more here playing in the Premiership. Other parts of your game can develop including handling and playing smarter and it is brilliant to get this opportunity. If you play well enough then you can get invited to one of the Springbok camps and it would be a massive honour but I have only been playing for four years. I have to focus on working hard every game and not get complacent.”
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