Friday 30th March 2012 – 8.00pm
Kingston Park, Newcastle
Aviva Premiership #19
This could be a key weekend in the relegation battle, with both ourselves and Wasps having, on paper, the easiest games of our run-ins until the potentially fateful day in High Wycombe in May.
While Wasps host Gloucester on Sunday, the Falcons again have the chance to put pressure on the Pests by playing first, against Sale tomorrow night.
After years of this game being an almost-guaranteed win for the Falcons, we haven’t beaten the Sharks at home in the Premiership since September 2007, when World Cup-bound Toby Flood engineered an opening day bonus point win for us.
How long ago that seems.
A repeat of that, or indeed our 37-7 thrashing of the Sale in the LV= Cup in Gary Gold’s first game in charge in January, would be most welcome. A repeat of Boxing Day, when we lost in Stockport, would not be.
Our home record v Sale in the professional era:
10/03/1998 Premiership 1 W23-18
20/12/1998 Premiership 1 W30-15
29/12/1999 Premiership 1 W12-6
06/01/2001 Cup SF W37-25
11/03/2001 Premiership W48-24
31/03/2002 Premiership W30-10
27/10/2002 Premiership W31-20
21/09/2003 Premiership W9-8
02/01/2005 Premiership W30-29
02/10/2005 Cup W34-9
16/04/2006 Premiership W32-21
26/12/2006 Premiership W40-25
16/09/2007 Premiership W33-12
07/09/2008 Premiership L9-14
13/09/2009 Premiership D16-16
07/01/2011 Premiership D19-19
29/01/2012 Cup W37-7
Sharks (which they might end up calling themselves next season, having previously experimented with it in 2002/03) have had a decent season, with none of the relegation worries of previous years.
Although they have won only away twice in the Premiership, at Wasps in September and Bath in December, Sale sit seventh on 40 points, just two behind Gloucester, and have realistic hopes of a Heineken Cup place for 2012/13.
Head coach Tony Hanks paid the price for two heavy defeats this month, in Exeter and most recently a 9-45 home thumping by champions Saracens. The latter match, last Friday night, led to outspoken CEO Steve Diamond to promise changes, and Hanks’ head was the one to hit the block. Diamond now wants to bring in a “big-hitting, experienced Director of Rugby” in the summer.
Sale have already begun adding to their squad for next season, with potential seat-filler Danny Cipriani returning to England from his Australian adventure, and more substantially than stylishly Richie Gray will make way for Glasgow-bound Tim Swinson. Eifion ‘the big fella’ Lewis-Roberts is returning to the North West from Toulon, with injury-prone England prop Andrew Sheridan heading in the opposite direction.
On the way out is former Leeds back Luther Burrell, who will be joining Northampton.
Alex Tait injured himself again at Worcester last week and is replaced by Tom Bedford on the left wing, and the only other change to the Falcons’ starting line-up is Rob Vickers, back from suspension, coming in for Matt Thompson. James Hudson is back on the bench too, one of six forwards among the replacements:
Falcons: 15 Jeremy Manning, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Tom Bedford, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Peter Stringer, 1 Jon Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Tim Swinson, 5 James Goode, 6 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg.
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 James Hall, 19 James Hudson, 20 Adam Balding, 21 Mark Wilson, 22 Will Chudley, 23 Greg Goosen.
Former Falcon Rob Miller is at full-back for Sale tomorrow night, having performed well in this position so far this season, including on Boxing Day. The only other ex-Falcon at Edgeley Park, Charlie Amesbury, is nowhere to be seen, but there is plenty of international experience in the starting XV with Mark Cueto, Dwayne Peel, Andrew Sheridan, Richie Vernon and Andy Powell included, and captain Sam Tuitupou is a former All Black:
Sale: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou (c), 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 1 Andrew Sheridan, 2 Marc Jones, 3 Tony Buckley, 4 Kearnan Myall, 5 James Gaskell, 6 Richie Vernon, 7 David Seymour, 8 Andy Powell.
Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Tom Holmes, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Will Addison.
Time is running out, this is a must-win game, so let’s make ourselves heard tomorrow night and roar the Falcons on to a massive victory! Here’s to a sore throat on Saturday!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)