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If once is promising, twice suggestive and three times a trend, both Sale and Saracens stand on the verge of trendiness before Friday's Zurich Premiership meeting at Edgeley Park.
Each is among the five teams Gloucester, Newcastle and Northampton the others who have started the Premiership season with two wins. Each has beaten champions Wasps narrowly, Sarries 13-11 on opening day at Twickenham, while Sale had a striking 33-30 victory at Wycombe last week.
There are also numerous old acquaintances to be renewed. Seven players followed coach Steve Diamond from Sale to Saracens in the close season. Anxious not to inflame ill-feeling in advance of their return to Cheshire, they were declining press interviews this week.
Saracens coach Rod Kafer denies a conscious attempt to imitate or appropriate the style that has made Sale the more successful club in recent seasons: “Steve coming here gave us access we wouldn't otherwise have had to a number of quality players, and we had to take advantage of that.”
The influx is part of a still wider turnover of players aimed at reversing a pattern of underachievement at club since 1998 when, as Cup-winners and Premiership runners-up, they seemed on the verge of becoming England's dominant club. England flanker Richard Hill, conspicuously not an underachiever, finds the failure hard to explain. Kafer argues: “We had players who did not share our aspiration, which is to achieve the highest level of success possible. You have to make sacrifices for that, and we've brought in players who will do that.”
They have also added depth. Hooker Raphael Ibanez may be on the point of recall by France, but has started both games so far on the bench while Matt Cairns, one of the Sale septet, wore the number two shirt. Hill names other contenders for the back row: “Taine Randell, Alex Sanderson, Hugh Vyvyan, the youngsters Ben Skiving and Ben Russell and now David Seymour who came though on our tour of South Africa and at 18 was capable of playing the second half against Wasps.” Kafer and Diamond have been joined by Ireland's defence coach Mike Ford.
Sale, whose traditional attacking dash is now supplemented by serious forward power, will start as favourites. But Saracens' ambition of returning to the Heineken Cup next season looks highly attainable.
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