Planet Rugby

Preview: Sale Sharks v Gloucester

25th September 2008 12:32

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Iain Balshaw v Harlequins

Iain Balshaw: Back in action

Gloucester and Sale both embark on an intense schedule of three games in eight days featuring a number of changes in their respective line-ups from those which conquered Harlequins and Bristol last week.

Gloucester caoch Dean Ryan has made nine changes to his side, including the return of Iain Balshaw to action.

"Tomorrow is the beginning of an exceptionally intense period for us and for that reason we have to utilise the strength we have in our squad," Ryan said.

"We are back in the Guinness Premiership next Tuesday against Newcastle at Kingsholm which only gives us a four-day turnaround after tomorrow, before the start of the EDF Energy Cup against Wasps and then we are into Europe.

"I have always made it clear that changes are essential over a season of this length and intensity to remain competitive, we also have some injuries in certain areas and we need to be mindful of our schedule ahead."

Up front, Alasdair Dickinson - a first-half replacement against Quins - starts his first game of the season at loose-head, Olivier Azam remains at hooker and Dave Young comes in for Carlos Nieto, who has been ruled out with a back injury.

Will James's calf injury means Marco Bortolami returns to the second row alongside Alex Brown. In the back row, Peter Buxton will wear six and skipper the side and will pack down alongside Andy Hazell and number eight Luke Narraway.

There are also five changes in the back-line. Rory Lawson makes his first start at scrum-half since the first day of the season against Leicester and will partner Ryan Lamb at half-back, also back in the starting line-up for the first time in a fortnight.

Olly Barkley will continue at inside centre and Matthew Watkins shifts to 13 in place of Mike Tindall, who is on the bench.

In the back three, only Lesley Vainikolo remains from last Saturday's starting line-up. He will be joined on the wing by James Simpson-Daniel, who was rested last weekend, and Iain Balshaw, who returns at full-back in place of Olly Morgan for the first time this season.

Balshaw returned with 55 minutes in the Guinness A League on Monday during Gloucester's victory over Leicester.

On the bench, Ryan has gone for a four-three forward split. Andy Titterrell and Nick Wood cover the front row options, while Alasdair Strokosch and Apo Satala complete the forward options.

Gareth Cooper, Willie Walker and Tindall are the three-quarter options.

"Sale have made a great start to the season, have the meanest defence out there at the moment and are also extremely physical," Ryan added. "When they get all the components of their game operating they are a very good side.

"Our victory last weekend was very important and now we must try and build on it. I am excited about this line-up. If we can get in the right areas of the field I am confident we can be a threat against most sides."

Meanwhile, the Sharks have all-new locks and props, as well as Richard Wigglesworth and David Doherty back in the starting XV for the match.

"We have worked hard in training this week and want to build on the solid start we have had. Gloucester will be tough, they have had back to back wins against Bath and Harlequins and that shows how good a side they are," said Director of Rugby Philippe Saint Andre.

"I have rotated the squad a little for this game as it's the first of three games in eight days. These three games are all important to us, as a club, and will show how good our squad is, as most of them will get some game time.

"Andrew Sheridan (arm) and Chris Jones (knee) both miss out tomorrow but I expect them to be fit for next Wednesday's game at London Irish."

Form: Sale Sharks have now become just the seventh team in Premiership history to go three complete games without conceding a try - no side has ever managed to tally four tryless defensive performances in a row. The Sharks have won five of their last six games in the Guinness Premiership. Gloucester Rugby have defeated the then Guinness Premiership table toppers for the past two weeks, and are bidding to equal last season's performance when they began the season with three successive away Premiership victories. The last ten encounters between the two teams in the Premiership have been won by the home side on the day. Gloucester have never won on five previous visits to Edgeley Park, whilst their last win on Sale soil in the Premiership was 44-21 at Heywood Road on 22 September 2001.

Sale Sharks: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Mathew Tait, 13 Luke McAlister, 12 Lee Thomas, 11 David Doherty, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Sebastien Chabal, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Kristian Ormsby, 5 Sean Cox, 4 Brent Cockbain, 3 Stuart Turner, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Lionel Faure.

Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Eifion Roberts, 18 Dean Schofield, 19 Jason White, 20 Dwayne Peel, 21 Chris Bell, 22 Mark Cueto.

Gloucester: 15 Iain Balshaw, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Matthew Watkins, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Andy Hazell, 6 Peter Buxton (capt), 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami, 3 Dave Young, 2 Olivier Azam, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.

Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 Nick Wood, 18 Alasdair Strokosch, 19 Apo Satala, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Mike Tindall, 22 Willie Walker.

Date: Friday, September 26

Venue: Edgeley Park

Kick-off: 19.45 BST

Referee: Andrew Small

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PosTeamPPts
1Saracens418
2Northampton416
3Bath415
4Exeter414
5Wasps411