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    • Steve Diamond was alerted to the terrible Covid-19 news at 6.30am
    • Sale’s depleted squad saw them slip from third to fifth at the end of last season  
    • Diamond knew the players had acted properly despite the probing questions

    The 6.30am notification alerting Steve Diamond that 16 of his players had tested positive for Covid-19 is still fresh in the memory but Sale are ready to go again.

    After a deep clean, a period of self-isolation and an investigation that felt like a military exercise, the ambitious Manchester club want to pick up from where they left off.

    Sale were on course for a third-place finish in the standings and Diamond insists they will channel the recent frustrations when the new campaign starts on Friday night.

    Steve Diamond and Sale Sharks were rocked after 16 of the team’s players contracted Covid-19

    ‘Initially, the world thought we were guilty of some heinous crime,’ said Diamond, speaking for the first time since their campaign was called off. 

    ‘Once everybody got to know that no heinous crime was committed, it was just a case of tightening things up and working out how we can contain or prevent a future outbreak.

    ‘Of course we were disappointed but we were probably the first of many. There was a thorough investigation but we had nothing to hide. It was like the SAS had landed!

    ‘We were a case study because we were the first to have an outbreak. 

    ‘All the processes you go through: how you enter the building, leave the building, how you socially distance, how you eat. 

    ‘We became the victim and the guinea pig at the same time. We were disappointed that we couldn’t play the last game but hopefully it helps in moving things forward.’

    Simon Orange was frustrated that the club were being accused of breaking virus protocols

    Simon Orange was frustrated that the club were being accused of breaking virus protocols

    The positive tests cost Sale their shot at a first Premiership trophy since 2006. 

    Players were levelled with accusations that they had broken bubble protocols by going out drinking, but they have subsequently been cleared in an RFU investigation. The allegations left club owner Simon Orange frustrated.

    ‘There were directors of rugby of other interested clubs who were stirring the pot on TV, without any evidence,’ he said. 

    ‘That was a bit annoying but our club have acted properly. The RFU have done their investigations and we’ve ticked every box. 

    ‘Nobody has been out in Manchester or anything like that. We had a false negative that resulted in somebody training in the squad for 10 days.

    ‘It’s just a very disappointing end because we could have ended in third place with a semi-final.

    ‘It wasn’t to be and we’re going to use it positively for the new season. We’ve appointed a new CEO this week, easing some pressure on Steve and we want to get back up there winning trophies.’

    After little time to recover from the previous campaign, Sale will kick off the new season against Northampton. 

    Star signings Manu Tuilagi and Lood de Jager are both sidelined by injury, while Tom Curry will be absent because of England duty. They are far from ideal circumstances but Diamond is optimistic.

    New signings Manu Tuilagi (pictured) and Lood de Jager are unable to help out Sale just yet

    New signings Manu Tuilagi (pictured) and Lood de Jager are unable to help out Sale just yet

    ‘It’ll be a tough season and a long season but we’ve got to manage our way through it,’ said Diamond. 

    ‘At Sale, subliminally, everyone from the kitman to me thought we had a good season last time around. 

    ‘We thought we were good enough to get into the top four and we’ve just got to climb back on the bus where we got off it.’

    This season’s biggest challenge is: how do you stop Exeter? The Chiefs charged to the domestic and European double last month. 

    ‘Exeter have had a great 10 years,’ said Diamond. ‘You can take little facets of other teams’ games but they have a unique way of playing and it’s difficult to replicate. 

    ‘We’re trying to get our own identity. Not many people leave there. I don’t think we’re that far behind in those areas. 

    ‘We’re pretty content, we have a good squad aged between 21 and 30. We’ve got no one sticking their hand up saying they want to retire.’

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