Preview: Sale vs Newcastle

Date published: February 9 2017

Sale Sharks have named a strong starting line-up for Friday's Premiership clash with Newcastle Falcons at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Steve Diamond has made a number of changes to the side that beat Harlequins last weekend at The Stoop in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

In the front-row, Rob Webber and Halani Aulika start alongside Ross Harrison, having missed the victory last weekend. Bryn Evans and Jonathan Mills continue their partnership in the second-row.

In the back-row, Cameron Neild comes into replace Laurence Pearce, with Neild starting at flanker and TJ Ioane moving to number eight.

AJ MacGinty returns from international duty with the USA, to start at fly-half and is partnered by Mike Phillips.

Captain Will Addison moves to the wing, with Sam James and Mark Jennings starting in the centres. Denny Solomona starts on the other wing, with Mike Haley playing at full-back.

Ahead of the game, Diamond said: "We’ve got to win on Friday night, it’s a must win as all our league games are. Our thoughts for the weekend are that it will be a really hard game.

"Newcastle been playing really well, and they’ve changed the way they play a bit. But if we turn up and perform as we have done over the last five weeks, then they’ve got to play really well to beat us.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle boss Dean Richards has spoken of his excitement at returning to Premiership action.

The Falcons are aiming to do the double over their northern rivals after recording an opening-night victory at Kingston Park Stadium in September, the director of rugby saying: “This our bread and butter, and I absolutely love it.

“The Premiership is probably the best club competition in world rugby, and the fact that the cups are now over for us has really created that focus on the league. It certainly tidies up the season from that point of view, and the only focus we’ve got is winning as many games as we can in the Premiership.”

Expecting a tough evening at the AJ Bell Stadium, Richards’ men go into the game on the back of Anglo-Welsh Cup wins over Bath and Dragons, and having also won their last league outing against Bath.

He said: “We are starting to get a bit of form again.

“We had a couple of weeks off for the cups where we tried and tested things, and gave people a game. The boys came through in the past two weeks, and that shows the confidence and the fact people are understanding exactly how we are trying to play.

“Sale are a difficult side to beat at their own stadium, and last season I think they only lost once there in the league. This season they have lost a few more but at the same time they are a difficult nut to crack, and we are under no illusions as to what it will take.

“They have got a lot of their big players back and are just starting to hit a bit of form. It makes them a difficult side to beat but, having said that, our own form down there is not too bad. As a result of that the trip holds no fear for us, we are winning a few on the road this season and we are confident going into what we know will be a hard battle.”

Having already won more Premiership games this season than they did over the whole of the previous one, Richards added: "Year on year we have been improving, and people have been frowning saying ‘yeah you’re improving, but you’re not getting the results’.

“But if you keep improving year after year, eventually you will start overtaking people. That’s what we have started to do, but it’s the smaller finer details that get you there. It’s a gradual thing and you don’t see it all at once. It’s frustrating but I’ve been there before, and I understand that. The beauty for us is that because we have been making ground, even if people haven’t always appreciated it, the confidence within the side has remained high during those last few years.

“People can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even though we weren’t quite getting the results we were being competitive most of our games. Now that we’re starting to win more than we have ever done, that confidence is growing even more.

“The good thing about this group of boys is that they won’t get over-confident. It’s just not in their nature, and because of what has gone on in the last few years they appreciate that the only way to get up there to the top is through hard work."

Form: Sale Sharks have slipped to six straight Premiership Rugby defeats, their worst 'trot' since 2012. The Sharks most recent victory in the competition was on a visit to Bristol on 30th October, whilst their most recent home win in the tournament came against Leicester in round 5. Newcastle Falcons have picked up 15 league points from their last five fixtures in Premiership Rugby, recording victories at Northampton and at home to Harlequins and Bath, with the two reversals in that time being against to the top two in the table: Wasps and Saracens. Newcastle beat Sale 19-17 at Kingston Park in round 1 and are attempting a first season’s double over Sharks since 2006/07. The Falcons record at AJ Bell Stadium is a very even won 1, drawn 1, lost 1.

The teams:

Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Will Addison (c), 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 Magnus Lund, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Jonathan Mills, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison 
Replacements: 16 Ben Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 David Seymour, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Johnny Leota, 23 Byron McGuigan

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Belisario Agulla, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Opeti Fonua, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers 
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Nili Latu, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Dominic Waldouck

Date: Friday, February 10
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Kick-off: 20:15 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Peter Allan
TMO: Trevor Fisher