Newcastle v Sale Sharks, Aviva Premiership, January 7
Sharks target clear water
January 6, 2011
Sale celebrate a vital victory over Saracens at Edgeley Park © Getty Images
Sale Sharks travel to Kingston Park on Friday night to take on rivals Newcastle as they look to pull clear of the relegation battle at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership.
Sale are eight points clear of Newcastle after they ended a miserable recent run with a thrilling victory over Saracens at Edgeley Park last weekend. The sense of optimism surrounding Stockport was lifted further by the performance of returning stars Charlie Hodgson and James Gaskell, although new skipper Mark Cueto is set to miss out against the Falcons through injury.
The Sharks, though, could be swiftly dragged down again if Newcastle, who have a game in hand on their rivals, can claim a much needed win at home. The Falcons have only won once in their last eight Aviva Premiership matches and with Leeds beating Gloucester last weekend, Newcastle are now just three points above bottom.
Newcastle - Player to Watch: Euan Murray makes his Premiership bow for the Falcons and the Scotland tight-head will want to lay down a marker against the physical Andrew Sheridan, his British & Irish Lions team-mate in 2009.
Newcastle - Team News: Falcons boss Alan Tait has made two further changes to his side, drafting in the fit-again Charlie Amesbury on the wing and shifting former Springbok Gcobani Bobo into midfield.
Sale - Player to Watch: Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel has been coming into some form of late and the former Lion will not want to take his foot off the pedal as the Six Nations approaches.
Sale - Team News: It's all change on the wings for the Sharks, where Cueto and Rhys Crane are replaced by Paul Williams and Mathew Tait. Nick Macleod comes into the starting line-up to take over from Williams at fullback.
Key Battle: Sale will not want to get bogged down in an arm-wrestle and therefore it is vital that Peel and Charlie Hodgson continue with their fast-paced, heads-up brand of attack against the more conservative Jimmy Gopperth.
Trivia: Sale are going for their first ever double over the Falcons after beating them 35-18 in the first round.
Stats: Newcastle's Jimmy Gopperth has kicked the second highest amount of ball from hand in the Aviva Premiership this season.
"Pete Anglesea is a young coach, and the older players there, look to be leading the way. The likes of Charlie Hodgson and Mark Cueto seem to be going out there and just enjoying their rugby - and they're throwing it about well and they caught Saracens by surprise." - Falcons boss Alan Tait reflects on his opponents' form.
"I have been able to name the same pack for the game with the same replacements in the forwards too. It's a fast turn around but we have trained well, the team spirit is excellent and players are walking around with smiles on their faces." - Sale coach Pete Anglesea is pleased with his side's preparations.
Fantasy: There are few more reliable kicking fly-halves in the Premiership than Newcastle's Gopperth. Time to go with Mr. Consistent in the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game?
Prediction: Sale to edge a fiercely-contested encounter at Kingston Park thanks to their superior try-scoring ability.
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