Sale stalwart Mark Cueto believes his club's Heineken Cup campaign is distracting their bid to avoid relegation in the Premiership.
Sale stalwart Mark Cueto believes his club's Heineken Cup campaign is a distraction they can do without in their bid to avoid relegation in the Premiership.
Having ended 2012 on a high with a narrow 33-27 home win over Worcester Warriors, Sale endured another difficult Premiership outing last time out as they crashed to a 32-12 defeat at Saracens on Sunday before travelling to Cardiff to face the Blues.
That defeat left the Sharks five points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership ahead of the European break which sees them entertain French side Montpellier at Salford City Stadium on Friday evening.
Sale's chances of qualification are already over after back-to-back defeats against Toulon and while a morale-boosting win would be a perfect tonic for the struggling outfit, Cueto – who will start at centre – admits it is the league which is the number one priority.
“If we're being honest, we'd rather keep going with the Premiership – that is where our priorities lie due to the position we are in,” he said.
“At the same time, we worked so hard last year to get in the Heineken Cup, and a lot of the players here this season are the same group of players so you've just got to crack on, but in an ideal world, we'd like to continue in the Premiership and try and get a few wins to relieve the pressure a little.
“But then at the same time, it's the Heineken Cup – it's the biggest club competition in the world. It's the first time the club have been in it for a long time. It's mixed emotions really.
“However when you look at it in the right way everything now is about securing being in the Premiership next season and we can use this period, in a less pressured environment to try and build some confidence for when the Premiership comes around.
“It's not just about the result these next weekends – it's about how we play and producing a good performance in preparation for Premiership.”
Sale will have to wait until February 8 to return to Premiership action with the LV= Cup coming hot on the heels of a double header of European action.
Cueto and co will welcome Exeter Chiefs before travelling to London Welsh on February 17 and while their current position may be precarious – especially after London Irish stunned Gloucester Rugby last time out to widen the gap at the bottom – the former England flyer is confident the Sharks can start climbing the table in the coming months.
“There's nothing we can do about London Irish winning at Gloucester,” added Cueto, who levelled the Premiership Rugby try-scoring record against Worcester.
“All we can do is concentrate on ourselves, though obviously in an ideal world, Gloucester would have beat London Irish and we would have picked something up at Saracens.
“It didn't work out that way so unfortunately we're back in the position we were in a fortnight ago.
“It's all about us – we can't start relying on other teams on doing us a favour. We've got to do ourselves a favour and start picking up some wins.
“London Irish picked up a surprise win and Sale Sharks haven't had that yet. The tables can turn really quickly and we were unlucky not to come away with a bonus point win against Worcester.
“It was a relatively convincing win and – it might sound funny – we're bottom of the table and five points adrift, but we're still a good team.
“If you get two good wins and you're totally out of trouble, so on one hand, it's terrible the position we're in, but then at the same time, we're well aware of concentrating on ourselves and getting it right then we'll soon get out of trouble.”