Sale Sharks eye Cup upset
March 15, 2013
© PA Photos
Sale Sharks will hope to overturn recent form to beat Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins to the first silverware of the season - the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
The Cup has been a rare source of success for Sale this season. Their run to the final has belied their atrocious form in the Aviva Premiership, which has seen them win just four times this season. Only a points deduction to London Welsh lies between Sale and the foot of the table. But Sale have already proved their ability to upset favourites - beating Saracens in the semi-final. The Sharks edged past Sarries, who are top of the Aviva Premiership, 21-15 weekend to book their place in the final. They had previously topped Pool 2 with victories over the Scarlets, London Wasps and Saracens in the group stages.
Harlequins secured their place in the final with a 31-23 victory over Bath at the Stoop last weekend. Quins ran in four tries and withstood a second-half rally by Bath to move into the final despite the absence England internationals Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Mike Brown. Victories over the Ospreys, London Welsh, Bath and Northampton in the pool stages ensured their qualified as top seeds for the semi-final. And they will surely go into the clash with Sale as favourites for the title.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Luke Wallace was in superb form in the semi-final - as he has been wherever Robshaw's absence has created an opening for the talented flanker. His ability to get over the ball at the breakdown could scupper Sale's attack while he is also a skillful player on the front foot.
Harlequins - Team News: Quins have named an unchanged starting XV from the side that beat Bath last weekend. Wallace again captains the side from flanker in the absence of Nick Easter and George Robson as well as Robshaw. Karl Dickson and Ben Botica link up again at half-back with Tom Casson and George Lowe in midfield. There is one change on the bench as James Johnston comes in for Kyle Sinckler, who is away with the England U20s in Wales.
Sale Sharks - Player to Watch: Like Sale, Danny Cipriani has endured a frustrating first season back in England after his stint in Super Rugby. When he perused the calendar of the season when he signed for Sale, England's Six Nations clash in Cardiff would have leapt out at him. Less so the Anglo-Welsh Cup final. But for now this stage will do. And a vintage Cipriani display remains Sale's best chance of upsetting Quins.
Sale Sharks - Team News: Nick MacLeod moves from inside centre to fullback for Sale Sharks while Will Addison comes into midfield and Michael Haley drops out of the squad. Nathan Fowles replaces Cilian Willis at scrum-half. Steve Diamond names a new front row with Alasdair Dickinson, Marc Jones, Tony Buckle in place of Tommy Taylor, Ross Harrison and Henry Thomas, all of whom are on the bench. Big guns Daniel Braid, Dwayne Peel, Sammy Tuitipou and Mark Cueto lie in wait on the bench.
Key Battle: Sale's back-row of James Gaskell, Andy Powell and David Seymour will need a massive game against a well-balance Harlequins back-row trio. Powell and Gaskell will be crucial in generating attacking momentum while Seymour has the ability to throw a spanner in Quins' otherwise slick machine.
Trivia: This is Sale Sharks' first appearance in a major final since May 2006, when they beat Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership Final at Twickenham.
Stats: Harlequins' Ben Botica is the competition's leading scorer this season with 66 points with Danny Cipriani second, two points behind.
"I think it's well-deserved that the young team will be played again. It shows the strength in depth of the club and a lot of guys have put a lot of effort in through the group games so it's well deserved that we will be sticking with the same team." - Harlequins flanker Luke Wallace
"We'll go down there, have a good day out and then concentrate on the last five weeks of the season. We've got Harlequins who are a top side and they beat us comprehensively two weeks ago so we're not counting our chickens." - Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond
Prediction: Despite their international call-ups and experienced players like Nick Evans on the sidelines, Quins have the quality and confidence to secure the first silverware of the season. In the likes of Cipriani, Powell and Cueto, Sharks have the potential to scare their opponents, but Quins' quality and power should come through.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"Some people have it from day one and Brian did." Tom Hamilton talks to the two players who made their Ireland debuts alongside Brian O'Driscoll back in June 1999
Despite having lost all four of their 2014 Six Nations games, the future of Italian rugby is bright with the team showing a new youthful core, argues Enrico Borra
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column