Sale Sharks were forced to forfeit their final Gallagher Premiership fixture against Worcester after reporting 27 positive Covid-19 tests. This was a bitter blow to the Sharks, as victory in the fixture would have secured them a place in the top four of the Premiership table and a place in the play-off finals.
The misery of the club and its fans has been further compounded by a haranguing from the media. Illustrative of this was Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Steve Diamond interview with BT Sport on 4th October, throughout which he was politely disrespected.
Presenter Craig Doyle questioned the timeline of events after Sale Shark’s victory over Harlequins on 21st September in the Premiership Cup Final, Sale’s first piece of silverware since 2005.
Diamond provided a full account of the testing and match preparation that had been done since the Cup. He referred to an independent tribunal, which ruled that Sale had gone “above and beyond” to ensure that all Covid-19 regulations, as provided by the Rugby Football Union, were followed.
The BT Sport panel were unsatisfied.
Ugo Monye, the former England and British and Irish Lions winger, claimed that he could not ignore his social media feed, where he had seen accusations of Sale Sharks players heading into Manchester after the cup final to party, asking Diamond whether there was any truth to this.
Diamond’s answer? “It didn’t happen.”
It is true that we do not know what caused the Covid-19 outbreak in the Sale camp. Diamond claims that it came from a false-negative test of one of his players. Many on Twitter claim it was a team of professional sportsmen partying with students.
The BT Sport interview is the just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the accusations directed at Manchester’s premier rugby union team.
“Sale Sharks players went drinking after Premiership Cup victory after positive Covid fallout causes fury and chaos” reported The Daily Telegraph the day before the BT Sport interview.
The Telegraph are the largest newspaper to launch such an outwardly scathing attack on Sale Sharks and their players, but they are far from the only news outlet to do so. They further continued their barrage more recently when reporting the withdrawal of Piers Francis from the England squad for the upcoming Autumn Internationals following a positive Covid-19 test.
“Sale Sharks’ mass Covid-19 outbreak penetrates England squad as Piers Francis tests positive” exclaimed another Daily Telegraph headline on 7 October.
This directed attack on one of the finest rugby outfits in the English game is reminiscent of the England Football vs British Tabloid battles of the past. The assertion that Sale Sharks players contracted Covid-19 whilst partying and breaking social distancing rules is based entirely on hearsay.
Perhaps it is a tabloid trying to attract eyeballs. Perhaps it is a misguided opinion that professional rugby players are still big boisterous boozers. Perhaps it is a directed attack on this season’s only northern Premiership team.
Whatever the case may be, it is being overlooked that one of the best teams in England has had their best season in 15 years snatched away from them by a virus that can affect anyone at any time.
The investigations and recriminations will rumble on, but the primary action for any rugby fan, team or body should now be to extend their sympathies to the Sale Sharks players, coaches and fans who have fought through the longest Premiership season in history and had the ultimate prize snatched from beneath their nose by an invisible virus at the last moment.
Image: Hirobi via Pixabay