Sale in for a gruelling winter
November 28, 2012
John Mitchell back when he played for Sale © PA Photos
John Mitchell may have been away for the best part of 15 years, but the former All Black will feel very much at home this week as he settles into his new office at Carrington. Sale's training centre is the kind of place he can do business. This is a northern factory designed to reward hard graft and commitment.
On the first floor of a two-storey new-build, next to the training pitches and weights room, Mitchell will start to plot a route to Premiership survival; to devise a plan that might retain a top flight status he helped establish during his first stint with the club as a player and a coach in the 1990s.
Sale aren't alone in choosing Carrington as the place they prepare for the challenges of matchday. The area to the south west of Manchester, which is also home to sprawling gas and chemical refineries, is where the bulk of the city's sporting elite spend their working week.
Mitchell won't be taken in by the glitz and the glamour exuded by the next-door neighbours though. While he might notice Sale have spent a bit of money over the summer filling in the car park's pot holes that were once as deep as watery mine shafts, this is not the spot Mario Balotelli would care to leave his Bentley.
Sharks players getting out of their Fords and Peugeots and hearing the shouts of City and United's footballers over the tall hedge know the roundballers are a world away from their reality. On this side of the Carrington fence there are no security guards warding off paparazzi and marshalling hordes of eager fans. Life's much more straightforward and down to earth.
Even some of the simpler pleasures have been sacrificed to make sure nothing gets in the way of the serious business of survival. The players' pool table and the dartboard which used to provide a diversion either side of lunch in the canteen have been taken away to make more room for the physios and the video analysts.
Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of Mitchell's rescue mission and Steve Diamond's determination to make Sale the jewel of northern rugby union. Little will be left to chance. The pair will form a formidable business partnership. One with characterful eyes wide open, the other's more narrow, neither missing a thing.
The players' private dressing room conversations are likely to have been laced with no little trepidation. Academy boss Pete Anglesea may have been recounting grand tales of Mitchell's times at Heywood Road, when they were part of a team that included Jim Mallinder, Dave Baldwin, Phil Winstanley and Steve Diamond at hooker.
The class of 2012 already know Diamond's methods. His favourite position in recent weeks has been on top of the scrum machine, pulling steel levers this way and that as he barks out encouragement and admonishments.
The forwards, who drive their shoulders into the steel beast with such force that moisture spits out of the machine's protective foam pads, have quickly dubbed Diamond "The Tank Commander". Expect Mitchell to be standing alongside before too long, doubling the weight that needs to be shifted and cutting even deeper furrows into the soft turf.
In recent times, the team who have been bottom of the Aviva Premiership at Christmas have found themselves in a different league come summer. As Mitchell settles in to his first week at Carrington, there's the promise of a long, hard winter ahead.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Nick Mullins is lead commentator for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN