Newport Gwent Dragons v Sale preview: Sharks kick off Challenge Cup campaign against Dragons
Dragons Head Coach Kingsley Jones faces former club after spending seven seasons with Sale
Both teams have been drawn in Pool 2 alongside, Pau and Castres
Sharks have won eight of their nine fixtures against Welsh opposition
Visitors hand debuts to youngsters Tim Jeffers and James Mitchell
Newport Gwent Dragons have won 12 of their previous 17 home matches in the Challenge Cup, scoring a total of 124 points
Sale Sharks travel to Wales to face Newport Gwent Dragons in their European Challenge Cup opener on Sunday.
Steve Diamond, the Sale Head Coach, admitted his side are relishing the challenge in the competition against their Welsh counterparts.
At this week’s press day he said: “Dragons are a good side, forward orientated and well coached by Lyn Jones and Kingsley Jones.
“Rodney Parade is a difficult ground so we’ll travel down on Saturday and prepare as best we can”.
His comments came on the back of Sharks’ narrow loss against Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership last weekend. Although the Club sits seventh in the league table, Diamond has managed to guide his team to three wins in their last six matches. While Newport Gwent Dragons have only recorded two wins in their previous six.
Dragon’s are without many key players ahead of the fixture as Hallam Amos is still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered at the Rugby World Cup.
Andrew Coombs, Tyler Morgan and Pat Leach are also out of the squad because of surgery.
Although performances in the Guinness Pro12 have so far left fans disappointed, many believe last year’s run of games that led the Dragon’s reaching the semi-final in the Challenge Cup will inspire and rejuvenate the side to put some much needed faith back into the squad.
In an interview before his team’s fixture against Sale Sharks, Dragon’s Head Coach Kingsley Jones said: “They’re a really good side, they’ll be a handful for us, but we’re at home and we’ll get some confidence from that”.
The Sharks have had a mixed start to the season, recovering well from their opening weekend thrashing by Saracens. Meanwhile, the Dragons have been struggling as of late, meaning Sale fare probably the favourites and should kick off their European campaign with what could be a significant away victory. Sale Sharks by 7
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Newport Gwent Dragons: Ligtoring Landman
The South African-born forward has proved to be a masterstroke of an addition since joining the Welsh province in 2014. He has played in the Super Rugby play-offs and always puts in passionate displays, usually consisting of blood, sweat and tears. His role this afternoon will be enormous.
Sale Sharks: Andrei Ostriko
Flanker Ostrikov has tallied 65 appearances for Sale Sharks since joining in 2011 and although injuries have plagued the Russians first-team chances, he is a fundamental asset when it comes to lineouts. With him fit to play, Steve Diamond will be able to capitalise on the 28-year-olds abilities although he has only managed three appearances so far this season.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Meyer; Hewitt, Hughes, Warren, Scott; D Jones, Pretorius; Stankovich, Dee, Knight; Hill, Landman (capt); L Evans, Griffiths, Jackson.
Replacements: Buckley, Price, Harris, Screech, Faletau, C Davies, Tovey, Wardle.
Sale Sharks: Jeffers; Brady, Jennings, James, Ingall; Macleod, Mitchell; Flynn, Briggs, Mujati, Mills (capt), Ostrikov, Lund, Hughes, Fihaki.
Replacements: Neild, Pope, Harrison, Nott, Beaumont, O’Donnell, Edwards.