Sharks and Falcons set for season opener
September 2, 2010
Sale's 20-year-old captain James Gaskell will lead the Sharks in their Premiership opener © Getty Images
The wait is over. The new Aviva Premiership season kicks off at Edgeley Park on Friday night with Sale Sharks playing host to Newcastle Falcons.
Both of these sides struggled to make an impression on the Premiership last season and flirted with relegation a little more than they would have liked. As a result, it was no surprise to see a few changes during the post-season. The Sharks underwent a more severe makeover with Kiwi coach Mike Brewer sweeping through the club, but the Falcons have also been busy with boss Alan Tait also re-shaping his squad ahead of his first season in charge.
The Premiership finished on an unprecedented high at Twickenham last season - can these to conjure a similar level of drama in the first game of the new campaign?
Sale - Player to Watch: Many raised their eyebrows when 20-year-old lock James Gaskell was handed the Sale captaincy but big things are expected of the gazelle-like second row nicknamed 'Jamma'.
Sale - Team News: Nine of the Sharks' 23-man squad have yet to make their competitive debuts for the club, including Kiwi signing Paul Williams, who starts the game at fullback and winger Tom Brady.
Newcastle - Player to Watch: Former Munster fly-half Jeremy Manning starts in the No.10 shirt having impressed in pre-season and he has some big boots to fill with last season's Golden Boot winner Jimmy Gopperth restricted to a place on the bench as he recovers from an ankle problem.
Newcastle - Team News: Scottish internationals Ally Hogg and Andy Henderson both make their first Premiership appearances for the club after summer moves from Edinburgh and Montauban respectively.
Key Battle: All eyes will be on Dean Richards - no, not that Dean Richards - the referee. The new directive at the tackle area rescued the Premiership as a spectacle last season and produced a feast of attacking rugby. Since then, the Tri-Nations has picked up the baton and quite literally run with it. Don't expect that kind of free-flowing rugby but having had time to finesse their approach these clubs should at least continue to entertain.
Trivia: Last season's Premiership also kicked off at Edgeley Park, where Sale beat eventual champions Leicester 15-12 thanks to five penalties from the boot of centre Lee Thomas.
Stats: Newcastle have won on three of their last four visits to Stockport, with their most recent victory coming in Round 21 last season when they notched a 32-30 victory.
Odds: Think you can call this one? Sale are favourites with Bet365 at a wholly unattractive 4/7 with the Falcons a slightly more enticing 11/8. But given how close contests were between these sides last season, how about the draw at 18/1?
"I'll try to be a good diplomat with the referees - I've had Christophe Berdos, Neil Paterson and Dave Pearson so far. Three games, and all different! I had language difficulties with the first two. I'm learning the ropes, seeing what refs. like and what they don't. I hope to keep them on our side all season! Will I call him, "Sir"? Yeah - I will be!" - New Sale captain James Gaskell.
"We're not a Leicester or a Northampton paying top whack for a squad full of established internationals, but we all know that and you will never catch me whingeing about it. I believe in the quality of players that we have here at the club." - Falcons coach Alan Tait .
Fantasy: This match also marks the start of the ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game so we can't give you an insight on key performers just yet - but we will. Have you entered your team yet?
Prediction: So many changes on both sides both in the coaching and playing ranks makes this an intriguing clash. Home advantage has not been kind to Sale lately and Newcastle look primed to score the first upset of the season.
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