Steve Diamond expecting plenty of twists in Premiership play-off race

Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond believes the Gallagher Premiership play-off race could have a different look about it in six weeks.

The competition returns on Friday, with Sale first into action against Harlequins at The Stoop, 159 days after the coronavirus pandemic brought it to a halt.

Nine remaining rounds of regular season action will be played between August 14 and October 4, including midweek matches, prior to the play-offs and final.

Sale – currently second in the table, five points behind Exeter – are chasing a first Premiership title since 2006.

They are tipped by many to go all the way, especially following the recent arrival of England centre Manu Tuilagi from Leicester.

Tuilagi has bolstered a powerful squad headed by the likes of England flanker Tom Curry and South African World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager.

Bristol and Northampton fill the remaining two play-off spots, but the next five clubs are separated by just seven points.

“It has been a long time away, so effectively form counts for nothing,” Sale rugby director Diamond said.

England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium
England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium

“All the players have had a lot of rest, which is unusual, so I think the standard could be high.

“But I also think there will be a few teething problems, getting used to each other. We’ve had no friendlies, we have not done a lot of contact.”

Midweek action kicks in on August 25 and 26, with another round of Tuesday and Wednesday fixtures lined up on September 8 and 9.

Asked if he expected some unusual results following the resumption, Diamond added: “Yes, possibly.

“Certainly after the second round of games when we have the midweek games, my squad is small and it will stress us. You are going to have to play your squad.

“I think what the top four is like today isn’t going to be the same in six weeks.”

As with Premier League and Championship football earlier this summer, players must adapt to games being played behind closed doors.

Diamond said: “I think it is suck it and see, really. The footballers got through it pretty well, and they are used to massive crowds.

“It will be strange, and if anything it will even things up, certainly with the away fixtures.”