Sale, busily sweeping up the managerial crockery smashed by the coach Mike Brewer before his sacking last month and glueing it back together again, feared they might lose two of their most celebrated players at the end of the season. As it turns out, the Lions Test prop Andrew Sheridan has decided against following the England outside-half Charlie Hodgson through the door marked "exit". Strongly linked with a lucrative move to France, the 31-year-old loose head will stay at Edgeley Park for another season at least.
According to the Sale chief executive Mick Hogan, the return to the club of Steve Diamond in a newly created "executive director of sport" role was the tipping point.
"Steve signed him back in 2003 and once Andrew knew about his return, he was delighted to put pen to paper," Hogan said. "This is a massive statement of intent, both by the club and by Andrew. Inevitably, there was a lot of interest in his signature, and I know he has turned down some big offers from other teams. He's one of the world's best props and we're thrilled he has made this commitment."
The England coaches rightly regard Sheridan as a key component of their team in World Cup year: certainly, the red-rose pack will be a more potent force at the global gathering in New Zealand with the Sale man anchoring it.
But the significance of yesterday's announcement goes far beyond a single tournament, even one as important as this September's. Had Sheridan, a target for free-spending Toulon among others, crossed the Channel, he would have put himself off-limits for international selection in 2012. Now, the country's best young loose-head prospects – Alex Corbisiero of London Irish, Joe Marler of Harlequins, Nathan Catt of Bath – can continue developing at their own speed rather than at a pace dictated by panic-stricken selectors.
What is more, his decision will reassure those who feared a mass exodus of top-calibre English players after the World Cup. Some of the money being thrown around in France is entirely out of kilter with club rugby's business model, which creaks and groans quite loudly enough under the strain placed on it by Premiership teams operating on a £4m salary cap. Some of the current Wallaby backs are being offered small fortunes to perform in the Top 14 later this year: just recently, one leading English coach thought he had pushed the boat out to sign a big-name Australian, only to find he was tabling less than a third as much as a French bidder. It may not occur to Sheridan that he is striking a blow for economic sanity by staying put, but that is the reality.
Diamond, a long-serving Sale hooker and renowned hard nut whose coaching career at the club launched him on an unusually varied path – he worked with the England Saxons in the annual Churchill Cup and served as director of rugby at Saracens before joining Northampton as head of recruitment while guiding Russia to a place in the forthcoming World Cup – will take up his new role at the beginning of next month. Pete Anglesea, who has been acting as head coach since Brewer's departure, will remain part of the back-room staff.
Northampton, who need a bonus point victory over Edinburgh at Franklin's Gardens tonight to wrap up their Heineken Cup pool, go into the game without the injured England wing Chris Ashton, who suffered a thigh knock in the opening seconds of last weekend's Premiership defeat at Leicester. Joe Ansbro fills the gap in the back division.