It has been a difficult few years for Sale Sharks, the loss of big name players and changes in management has meant the team have gone from the highs of being champions in 2006 all the way to narrowly avoiding relegation last season.
During this time of transition Sale looked to it's academy to fill the holes created by the loss of key players, one such player to step up was forward James Gaskell, after impressing in his first few games he was given the club captaincy for the 2009/2010 season.
While that season would be rocked by injury and ultimately losing the captaincy Gaskell has continued to impress and is set to have a very bright future.
I was able to catch up with James over the weekend and ask him a few questions as he and rest of the team prepare for the new season.
Q. Obviously last season wasn't the easiest for Sale fighting relegation throughout, what was important in those last few weeks to stay up?
JG: The biggest thing was a belief within the team that we could stay up, everybody in the team was fighting for each other and we put in a lot of hard graft from Christmas time onwards and it paid off in the end.
Q. Did the points deduction for London Welsh take any pressure off in those final games?
JG: I wouldn't say so, the points deduction wasn't significant enough to put them down and there was still enough games left for them to turn the deficit round so we knew we had to fight until the last weekend.
Q. Looking ahead to the new season, what has been the areas the team has looked to improve to try and avoid the same situation this season?
JG: The biggest changes has been the addition of Mike Forshaw as a defence coach and Dan Richmond as a scrum coach...they are both probably areas we struggled most in last year. Then the addition of 4/5 experienced heads into the playing squad who have been around the Premiership for a number of seasons.
Q. Has the arrival of more experienced players helped you in preparation for the new season?
JG: Experience is always key, we've got a lot of young English players coming through at the club and with the help of the moreexperienced guys who can pass on knowledge and insight there is a good blend which can hopefully lead to exciting displays on the pitch.
Q. Where do you find yourself on that spectrum now entering your fifth season, yet only 23?
JG: I'd say I've still got a lot to learn and with the likes of Dwayne Peel, Mark Cueto, Dan Braid and the likes there is a lot of invaluable knowledge that I need to make the most of, but like you said after 5 years I feel I can also add little bits here and there from what I've picked up working with different people.
Q. So what would be a good season then for yourself and Sale do you think the team can fight to get back into the European competitions?
JG: Yes the biggest goal is to be back in the Heineken cup, as a player that is the pinnacle of club rugby. To do that we need to either be in the top 6 or win the LV cup, either of which would be a massive achievement. Personally to make sure I'm fighting for a place in the starting match day team week in week out!
Q. And internationally?
JG: I'm not currently in the Saxons squad, but my aim is to make sure I'm playing well for Sale week in week out and then if that's the case hopefully I can put my hand up and try and get back into the Saxons squad.
Q. Does the World Cup in 2015 remains a target for you?
JG. 2015 is definitely a target for me, it would be a massive honour to represent England in a home World Cup, but it all starts with how I play for Sale, I've got 2 years to put my hand up and show that I'm good enough to be there so I've got a lot of hard work a head of me.
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