Sale aim to continue run against Quins
February 22, 2013
Mark Cueto will be out to add to his record Premiership try tally, against Harlequins © Getty Images
First meets last in the Aviva Premiership on Friday night with league leaders Harlequins set to travel to Salford City Stadium to tackle bottom-placed Sale Sharks.
Victory over fellow strugglers London Welsh last weekend took Sale to within a point of 11th-placed London Irish and another win would see them climb off the foot of the table. But Harlequins are also in form having beaten Leicester Tigers last time out to return to the top of the table.
"Everyone has something to play for and anyone can beat anyone on their day," Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea said. "Sale are scrapping away and they've won their last four in all competitions and are at home, but we know it is important for us and our aspirations."
Karl Dickson will start at scrum-half for Quins after Danny Care returned to the England squad and he will line up at half-back alongside Ben Botica, who continues in place of the injured Nick Evans. Nick Easter meanwhile returns to the back row, where he will play alongside Luke Wallace and Maurice Fa'asavalu. Danny Cipriani retains the Sale No.10 shirt while Kiwi flanker Dan Braid is also included having agreed a contract extension earlier this week.
Elsewhere on Friday night, Mike Tindall will captain Gloucester on the occasion of his 150th appearance for the Cherry and Whites with Worcester set to provide the opposition at Kingsholm in front of the ESPN cameras. "It's fabulous in the modern era, to play 150 games is a big landmark and also he's probably playing some of his best rugby at the moment," Gloucester director of rugby Nigel Davies said. "You can't fault him really, his form is excellent, and he's as fit as anybody in the squad and age is not really relevant when you are that fit."
Worcester are aiming for their first victory of 2013 and director of rugby Richard Hill makes four changes to the side. No.8 Blair Cowan makes his first start of the season, while centre Josh Matavesi, hooker Ed Shervington and wing Chris Pennell return to the team.
"It's a very tough place to go Kingsholm, a big derby under lights, but we normally perform well in these evening games," said Hill. "The players have been in good spirits despite the defeat to Northampton last weekend; they have come in and worked very hard and it all starts for us on Friday. We need a couple of wins to get us away from that bottom area of the table and we will have to work very hard on Friday to try and get the first of them."
Leicester slipped to third place in the table following their loss to Quins with Saracens' victory over Exeter lifting them into second and adding further fuel to a rivalry that is set to resume at Welford Road on Saturday - once again on ESPN. "We weren't far away at Quins last week, we defended well and scored two good tries and this is another important game against another good side, who are just above us in the table," said Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill, who welcomes Geordan Murphy and Tom Croft back into the team.
Sarries welcome back Chris Wyles and Schalk Brits after missing last week's victory over Exeter. Rhys Gill also returns to the front row and Alistair Hargreaves starts alongside Steve Borthwick in the second row.
London Irish will try and find some consistency at home to London Wasps having won three and lost two of their league matches since the start of the year. However, they will find themselves up against a Wasps team that are enjoying their best form for a number of years and who go into the match following wins over Harlequins, Gloucester and Bath. Dai Young's team need to win to keep Gloucester and Northampton Saints at bay in the race for the fourth play-off place and he expects to face an Exiles' side desperate to avoid slipping further away from the clubs above them.
"I have no doubt they are targeting their home games hard and the fact that they beat Saracens there last time out highlights that," Young said. "I think they have quality players across their team and I am surprised they are where they are in the table. We know that they are desperate for points and we know what that feels like after last year."
Northampton host Bath at Franklin's Garden with both sides seeking to find the form to make a late-season assault on the play-off places and both with players away on England duty. The Saints are without Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley, while Bath, who are captained by hooker Rob Webber, are missing props David Wilson, who is on the bench for England, and Paul James, who is among the Welsh reserves for their trip to Italy.
"We're looking forward to this weekend and taking on Bath," Saints hooker Mike Haywood said, "but we know that Bath is going to be a really big challenge for us. We want to get a win on our home pitch and keep the momentum going, and hopefully we can take the good things from last week into tomorrow's game."
Exeter Chiefs will be out to banish memories of their early season loss to London Welsh, when the two sides meet at Sandy Park on Saturday. In round three the Chiefs became the first side to lose to the newly-promoted Exiles when they went down 25-24 at the Kassam Stadium - and the visitors will be eager to grab their first win of 2013 following losses to Northampton, Sale and Saracens.
"We're pretty keen to get our campaign on track and get a bit of momentum until the end of the season," Chiefs centre Jason Shoemark said. "It starts here and both teams will be looking for a win so it should be a good game. "Our philosophy has always been one game at a time but after you lose a few games on the trot it hurts a little bit and training gets a bit more intense."
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