"Early Christmas Presents" - Harlequins vs Sale Preview: Premiership Rugby Round Eight - Ruck

“Early Christmas Presents” – Harlequins vs Sale Preview: Premiership Rugby Round Eight

Harlequins host Sale Sharks this evening, with an exciting contest set to ignite a cold December evening under the Friday night lights. It’s the first day of Advent, and Christmas could come early for one of these two sides, as both Quins and Sale look to wrap-up their Premiership campaign with a win ahead of the Champions Cup break.

Harlequins Director of Rugby Billy Millard has had some key returnees added to his squad, as Joe Marler, Will Collier and Joe Launchbury are back in the famous quarters to face Sale. Former London Irish talent Chandler Cunningham-South is set to make his first start for Quins, as he takes the lead on the blindside flank. The returning Marler and Collier are back in their respective prop positions, with Sam Riley forming a re-shuffled front row.

Joe Marler of Harlequins waves to supporters after the Gallagher Premiership match between Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons at Twickenham Stoop, London on the 4th March 2022 – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

Joe Launchbury forms a new second-row partnership with Dino Lamb, with Cunningham-South named at openside flanker, alongside Will Evans at blindside and skipper Alex Dombrandt at number eight. The Harlequins backs has a feeling of familiarity about it, with Danny Care and Marcus Smith continuing their tried and tested halfback partnership. Andre Esterhuizen and Will Joseph link up once again in the midfield, with Cadan Murley switching to the left wing alongside the returning Nick David on the right touchline, and Tyrone Green continues at fullback.

Millard recognises how a key battle will be won and lost at the penalty count. The Quins coach sees this as a critical area to stop Sharks fly-half George Ford from taking a hold on the game. Millard wants to avoid gifting Sale what he calls “early Christmas presents”, after the Londoners handed Northampton Saints 14 unforced points in last weekend’s narrow 36-33 defeat at Franklin’s Gardens.

George Ford of Sale Sharks kicks the conversion during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers at AJ Bell Stadium on 14 May 2023. Photo: Frankie OKeeffe/PPAUK

“So I think you just need to trust that was a one off or two offs (mistakes). But then, there are some other bits and pieces around, a couple of defensive reads, a couple of penalties in key situations, the normal stuff that we usually dig into. But you know, they’re 14-point ‘gimmies’ so I guess, Christmas presents, early Christmas presents (for Northampton). The end of the day, that was the main indicator why we lost.”

“Obviously for all sorts of reasons, the penalty count is a big thing every week, for all different reasons. But you know, most teams have a sharpshooter, George (Ford) is definitely one of them. Letting them into our zones where they can get a driving maul, penalty count is critical. So we need to be on the right side of that.”

George Ford of Sale Sharks celebrates kicking a penalty during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers at AJ Bell Stadium on 14 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson has made one just change to his starting line up, that crept passed Bath for a narrow victory last weekend. Sale are looking to maintain their spot at the top of the Premiership, for their sixth win in seven matches. The sole change comes in the number one jersey, with Simon McIntyre coming in to the front row, to replace the injured Bevan Rodd at loose-head prop. England hopeful scrum-half Raffi Quirke is back in the match-day 23, after recovering from a broken jaw. Quirke takes a seat on the bench, with prop Ross Harrison bolstered to the bench.

The league’s joint top-scorer Arron Reed (five tries) is on the wing once again, he’s who has made more clean breaks than any other player in the league this season (12). Reed starts with Tom Roebuck and full-back Joe Carpenter in the Sale Sharks back three. 

Harlequins vs Sale Sharks – 19:45 KO, Twickenham Stoop


Will Evans of of Harlequins goes over for a try and celebrates during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Harlequins at Kingsholm Stadium on October 14th, 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK/Gallagher)

15. Tyrone Green 14. Nick David 13. Will Joseph 12. Andre Esterhuizen 11. Cadan Murley 10. Marcus Smith 9. Danny Care 1. Joe Marler 2. Sam Riley 3. Will Collier 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Dino Lamb 6. Chandler Cunningham-South 7. Will Evans 8. Alex Dombrandt (Captain)


16. Nathan Jibulu 17. Fin Baxter 18. Dillon Lewis 19. Irne Herbst 20. James Chisholm 21. Will Porter 22. Jarrod Evans 23. Oscar Beard


Arron Reed of Sale Sharks during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers at AJ Bell Stadium on 14 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

15. Joe Carpenter 14. Tom Roebuck 13. Rob du Preez 12. Sam Bedlow 11. Arron Reed 10. George Ford, 9. Gus Warr 1. Simon McIntyre 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie 3. Nik Schonert 4. Cobus Wiese 5. Jonny Hill 6. Ernst van Rhyn 7. Ben Curry (captain) 8. Daniel du Preez


16. Agustin Creevy 17. Ross Harrison 18. James Harper 19. Josh Beaumont 20. Sam Dugdale 21. Raffi Quirke 22. Sam James 23. Tom O’Flaherty