GP/02: Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks (preview)

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Sale Sharks will travel to Newcastle Falcons this weekend seeking to build on their stunning opening night victory over champions, Leicester.

Although they will be without half back, Charlie Hodgson (toe) Sale welcome back British Lions’ prop, Andrew Sheridan, who is set to make his return to competitive action after facing down the Springbok eight in a famous third test victory in Johannesburg in July.

“Most times after a drawn game the teams will be a little disappointed but still fairly happy they got a share of the points, but walking into our changing room after the final whistle you could hear a pin drop.

Former Falcon, Mathew Tait, is also called into the line-up and will make his first start of the season at outside centre. Tait’s familiarity with Kingston Park is sure to help a Sharks team that routinely fail to impress in its environs. Sale’s only win there came last season, and was keyed by a try from the absent Hodgson.

Still a touch of Tait’s competitive insight may turn that into a streak and finally put the curse to rest.

Sharks’ Director of Rugby Kingsley Jones is winding his squad up to a strong effort, saying:

“(We) showed against Leicester that we have some real quality in our side, and when it came down to it, I believe we won that game because we wanted it more.

“We have to be hungry again on Sunday against Newcastle . We have a lot of respect for them, particularly up front where I think that have the best pack in the Premiership. It will be a real battle and a real test of our character.”

Newcastle fly half Jimmy Gopperth will be looking to improve on a three from seven kicks outing that saw the Falcons earn a draw at Leeds Carnegie last Sunday.

The Junior All Black joined the Falcons from the Blues this summer after recording 363 points in his 52 Super 14 outings and he’s conscious of the expectations placed on his shoulders saying:

“There’s obviously more pressure on me as a goal-kicker having missed four from seven last weekend, but that’s just life and I’m fully aware of it. I’m there to kick the goals, goals win matches so when I miss a few it’s perfectly natural that it’s a talking point. It was obviously disappointing down at Leeds, but I’m a very confident person and I’ve not let it affect my preparation this week in the slightest.”

Gopperth knows too that the Carnegie result was an opportunity squandered adding:

“Most times after a drawn game the teams will be a little disappointed but still fairly happy they got a share of the points, but walking into our changing room after the final whistle you could hear a pin drop.

“The guys were really upset at the draw, and whilst the result wasn’t what we wanted at least it shows what winning means to us and how much we value getting victories for the Falcons. I really believe in the quality of players we have here, and I can’t wait to get out there again.”

The Falcons are excited about getting out in front of their home fans and revelling in the Kingston Park atmosphere, especially now that those first match nerves are behind them.

The Falcons make three changes from last weekend’s 9-9 draw against Leeds. Levi packs down at number eight, while Ed Williamson starts at blindside flanker and wing Charlie Amesbury replaces Danny Williams, who has a hamstring injury.

“We’ve made a few changes this week which we feel will suit us, and how we want to play,”

Gopperth confessed, before adding:

“Everyone was just that little bit too keen last week, we got caught a little bit flat positionally at times so it’s just a case of relaxing, keeping calm, finding some more flow and holding our depth in the back line.”

“They’re a good outfit with some star players in their squad. Defensively we’ll have to be really on our guard, and then in attack just stick to what we’ve talked about in training.

“We’re going to take the game to them, and you go into every match confident that you can get the job done.”

Teams

Newcastle Falcons:

To be named

Sale Sharks:

(from): Marika Vakacegu, Mark Cueto, Mathew Tait, Andy Tuilagi, Ben Cohen, Lee Thomas, Richard Wigglesworth, Andrew Sheridan, Mahonri Schwalger, Eifion Roberts, Chris Jones, Dean Schofield, James Gaskell, Neil Briggs, David Tait Replacements: Marc Jones, Gavin Kerr, Jack Forster, David Seymour, Rob O’Donnell, Will Cliff, Nick Macleod, Chris Bell[leader]

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