Bryan Redpath, yet to win a Premiership game as head coach at Sale since making a deeply controversial switch from Gloucester at the end of last season, tacitly admitted yesterday that his role will be diluted if and when John Mitchell, one of the big hitters in world rugby, joins the club on a full-time basis.
Mitchell, who held a prominent position in the England back-room team under Sir Clive Woodward before becoming an All Blacks coach in his native New Zealand, is set to return to these shores after a dozen years in the southern hemisphere.
"There has been a lot of chat about John and he has a wealth of experience," said Redpath, whose abrupt departure from Kingsholm in April led Gloucester to threaten Sale with legal action. "I will tap into that as much as possible. The club is bigger than me: we have to put our egos to one side, knuckle down and concentrate on doing the job. I have to take care of my end of the bargain, which is to prepare the players to perform as best they can, and not worry about who might be added to the staff."
Sale sacked their forwards coach, Steve Scott, last month after a dismal run of Premiership performances left them bottom of the pile. Steve Diamond, the chief executive and director of sport, took over Scott's role on an interim basis, but told Redpath and the players that he would immediately seek out a big name to fill the vacancy on the roster. Mitchell, a former Sale player who coached the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup and has since worked with Super Rugby franchises in Perth and Johannesburg, is one of the biggest names around.
The New Zealander was at Sale yesterday and will continue there on a consultancy basis until lingering contractual issues in South Africa, his last place of employment, are ironed out. Redpath will stay on as head coach, but the expectation among the players is that Mitchell will be given a major say in the running of the rugby operation, perhaps as performance director.
Meanwhile, the long-serving Wasps lock Richard Birkett has retired from the sport at 33 on medical advice. Birkett, who made his 250th appearance for the club last season, has failed to recover from a neck injury suffered during a second-string game against Saracens earlier this year.