The Gallagher Premiership resumes at Twickenham Stoop on Friday night with Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond insisting all teams are effectively starting from scratch.
For the first time since the league was placed into hibernation by Covid-19 in early March, England’s clubs will do battle with Diamond’s Sharks trailing leaders Exeter by five points in a title race also featuring Bristol, Northampton and Wasps.
Nine rounds are left to play before the knockout phase begins and after a short break the 2020-21 campaign will start, minus Saracens who have been relegated for salary-cap breaches.
Sale’s capture of Manu Tuilagi from Leicester has generated excitement and the England centre will make his debut against Harlequins, but for Diamond the key is successfully managing unfamiliar circumstances.
“I’m looking at Friday night as the start of a 12-month season with two sets of silverware to be won,” he said.
“It’s been that long since we played that there’s no point looking at what we did in our last games.
“The sides that manage rest will be the sides that do their best over the next few weeks, as long as there are no Covid outbreaks.
Sale have assembled a powerful team full of high-quality South Africans including Friday’s full debutant Lood De Jager with the arrival of Tuilagi enhancing their prospects of bulldozing through opponents.
Chris Ashton will make his debut for Quins against the club he left for Twickenham Stoop in March and elsewhere Paul Gustard’s team are strengthened by the return of Mike Brown from a knee injury and the end of Joe Marchant’s Super Rugby sabbatical.
“It has been an unusual mid-season pre-season with limitations and moderations, but the time has also allowed us to regain a healthy squad, with injuries hampering our progress and continuity in the first half of the season.
“Sale are a dangerous team with a host of international players and they will always be a tough test. We can only control our own performances – if we perform well and get enough wins that will take care of itself.
“We’re not aiming to squeeze into Europe, we’re aiming to go as far as we can this year. The first step is Sale.”