Cueto: We can perform the great escape despite record defeat in Europe
21:11 GMT, 20 December 2012
Sale resume their Aviva Premiership survival quest at Wasps on Sunday, on the back of a record defeat in Europe.
Losing 62-0 in Toulon was the lowest ebb this season, but Mark Cueto still believes the club can perform an escape act, inspired by their ‘intimidating’ new coach.
The former England wing was part of a side which was brutally put to the sword at Stade Felix Mayol last weekend, as Toulon amassed nearly a half-century of points in the second half.
Escape act: Former England wing Mark Cueto (pictured) is sure that Sale's new coach, John Mitchell will have a galvanising effect on the team as they attempt to avoid relegation
Of all the grim setbacks in this troubled campaign, the massacre by the Med was the worst of all, leaving the Cheshire club in a dire state as they prepare to head to Adams Park.
Time is running out for the revival to commence. The only northern team in the Premiership lie at the foot of the table, six points adrift of 11th-placed London Irish, having won just one of their 10 league games so far.
Cueto has known plenty of high-stakes occasions with England and the Lions, as well as his club, over the years, and he is well aware of how much is on the line now.
Gruelling: Sale's suffered a 62-0 defeat against Toulon, their heaviest ever defeat in the Heineken Cup
‘Our focus is on the Premiership — saving the club and saving our jobs,’ he said.
‘The defeat in Toulon was a massive disappointment but we have closed the door on it. We have to concentrate all our efforts on this fight for survival.
‘Deep down, I think our squad is too good to be relegated, but I’m also a realist and we’ve only won one of our 10 league games, so I do worry.
Galvanising: Cueto is sure that 'intimidating' new coach John Mitchell, a former All Black, will have a galvanising effect on the team as they fight to stay in the Aviva Premiership
'I’ve got this season and one more on my contract, so I’m not sure if the situation we’re in is more worrying for me or a 21 or 22-year-old.
‘It’s probably more worrying for someone in my position, because at least they can move on. If the worst came to the worst and the club went down, I’m not sure what would happen, which is a huge worry.
'You have to think about those things but the main focus has to be on staying positive.’
A major concern stemming from the defeat in southern France last weekend is that it undid much of the positive work from the previous game against Toulon eight days earlier, when Sale had battled gamely before losing 17-6 at home.
That performance suggested that the arrival of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell was rapidly having a galvanising effect on Sale and Cueto insisted that the Kiwi’s impact has been positive, despite the result in France.
‘I still think we’ve moved forward in the last two weeks under John Mitchell,’ said the veteran wing.
‘Lots of the lads had pre-conceived ideas about John, but I don’t think he has lived up to the negative ideas people maybe had about him. He is an intense guy who has huge knowledge and experience.
'The way he has focused the squad has been brilliant. We’re not playing in a very different way, but he has brought in plenty of new ideas.
‘John is an intimidating bloke, but sometimes you need that — you can’t just all be best mates and getting on all the time. There has to be a boss; someone in charge. Any successful team in any sport has a guy like that.
‘I think he can instil the belief in us so that we can get out of this situation we’re in. We finished sixth last season and have added three or four good players, so we should be better than we were before, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
'We’re a much better side than we have shown so far, but if you lose four, five or six games on the trot, it starts to affect your belief and confidence.’
Bottom: Sale sit at the bottom of the Premiership table with just one win from their first 10 games
Cueto was candid in admitting that the club’s senior players are the ones who have let the side down, while rookies such as Ross Harrison and Tommy Taylor have performed admirably in trying circumstances.
Sale added quality signings in the summer, in the shape of Richie Gray and Danny Cipriani, while Eifion Lewis-Roberts returned from Toulon, but all these high-calibre component parts haven’t clicked into place yet.
They will have to soon, ideally against Wasps in High Wycombe, then five days later against Worcester in Salford.
‘We have two massive games coming up this weekend and next weekend, and we need two wins, really,’ said Cueto.
‘London Irish have Leicester at home and Quins away, so on form they should struggle, which means if we can pick up points against Wasps and Worcester, we should be in a much better position.
‘At this stage of the season, London Welsh don’t look like being the team who go down — it’s likely to be us or London Irish.
'But if we get a couple of wins, suddenly it can all turn around. If we win our next two and Irish lose their next two, then we can go ahead of them and would have momentum.
‘We really need to turn the corner soon. We’re under-achieving and we have to take that personally.
'I’ve been in this situation before with Sale and we’ve managed to fight our way out of it, but it’s not a pretty place to be.’
Cueto on Mitchell: 'The way he has focused the squad has been brilliant. Were not playing in a very different way, but he has brought in plenty of new ideas'