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Preview: Worcester v Sale Sharks

22nd November 2007 11:14

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Luke McAlister Sale

McAlister: Ready to make his Sale bow on Friday

Luke McAlister will make his Sale Sharks debut against Worcester in the Guinness Premiership on Friday at Sixways.

The All Black has been named at outside centre, a position he last played when New Zealand lost to Australia in this year's Tri-Nations. He forms a centre partnership with Lee Thomas, and Charlie Hodgson occupies the fly-half berth.

Philippe Saint-Andre, Sale's director of rugby, has been impressed with McAlister in training this week and has rewarded him with a starting berth.

"Luke McAlister has trained with us all week and is looking good so I have decided to start with him," said the Frenchman.

Hodgson hopes McAlister's presence will allow him to play with greater freedom.

"Luke's a very good player and one I'm really looking forward to playing alongside. I'm sure we'll help each other out," he said.

"We're both playmakers and can hopefully take a bit of pressure off each other.

"Rather than just relying on one person to call the shots all the time, we can help share the workload and that might open a bit of space for either of us.

"Perhaps on occasions in the past I haven't had that much room to work in but, with Luke playing outside, there might be a bit more as the attention might be focused on him a little more."

McAlister's preferred position is inside centre, where he has figured prominently for the All Blacks, but he is comfortable across the midfield.

A genuine all-rounder and superb decision maker, the former Auckland Blue underlined his class during New Zealand's recent ill-fated adventure in France.

"Luke showed in the World Cup what an amazing player he is," said Hodgson.

"I'm just looking forward to getting him involved in the back line and helping to integrate him into the side as quickly as possible."

McAlister may have signed a bumper two-year deal thought to be worth £500,000, but he has been unable to displace Lee Thomas from the number 12 jersey.

The former Wales Under-21 centre has impressed during his spell in the side and Saint-Andre has opted to keep faith with the 23-year-old as Sale target their first Premiership away win in over a year.

Elsewhere, England prop Andrew Sheridan starts at loosehead, having just signed a new deal with the Sharks, and will join Sébastien Bruno and Stuart Turner in an all international front-row.

The back-row sees Sébastien Chabal and Jason White return as the Sharks look to close the gap on the Premiership front runners.

"It's a game that both sides need to win," admitted Saint Andre.

"Worcester need the points to kick start their Premiership campaign and we need the points if we are to keep in touch with the Premiership leading pack."

Meanwhile, Worcester welcome back Dale Rasmussen although Samoan team-mate Loki Crichton misses out through injury.

Rasmussen was rested for the two recent European Challenge Cup victories but returns at centre for Friday's game.

Mark Tucker will play alongside Rasmussen with Crichton ruled out with a calf injury. Chris Pennell retains his place at full-back after his impressive try scoring display against Montauban.

Warriors keep the same pack that recorded a five-try victory last weekend with New Zealand international lock Greg Rawlinson handed a place on the bench.

There is also a place amongst the replacements for Dominic Feaunati, with the Samoan returning after being ruled out since early October.

Form: Worcester Warriors have won their last three matches in all competitions, but in the Guinness Premiership the Warriors are winless in their last five encounters. Likewise Sale Sharks have also won their last three games, whilst in the Premiership they have not won away from home since a 31-14 victory over London Irish at Reading on 15 October 2006. The last three clashes between the two clubs have been won by the away side on the day, and Sale have been victorious on their last two visits to Sixways.

The Teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Thinus Delport, 13 Dale Ramussen, 12 Mark Tucker, 11 Marcel Garvey, 10 Shane Drahm, 9 Matt Powell, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Pat Sanderson (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Craig Gillies, 4 Phil Murphy, 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Darren Morris.

Repalcements: 16 Matt Mullan, 17 Chris Fortey, 18 Greg Rawlinson, 19 Kai Horstmann, 20 Nick Runciman, 21 Dominic Feaunati, 22 Joe Carlisle.

Sale Sharks: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Luke McAlister, 12 Lee Thomas, 11 Rory Lamont, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Sébastien Chabal, 7 Nathan Bonner Evans, 6 Jason White, 5 Sean Cox, 4 Dean Schofield, 3 Stuart Turner, 2 Sébastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.

Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Eifion Roberts, 18 Christian Day, 19 Scott Lawson/David Tait, 20 Sililo Martens, 21 Julien Laharrague, 22 Chris Mayor/Rudi Keil.

Date: Friday, 23 November

Kick-off: 20:00 GMT

Venue: Sixways

Referee: Tony Spreadbury

Touch judges: Peter Huckle, Bob Mullis

Assessor: Colin High

Television match official: Andrew Turner

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