Sale welcome Worcester to the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night: 8pm kick-off
Sharks make three changes to the team that were thrashed 41-3 by Saracens last weekend
Dean Ryan makes no changes to the starting XV that overcame Northampton 13-12 seven days ago
Worcester have lost their last six meetings with the Sharks
The opening-round fortunes for these two sides could barely have been any different. While Worcester were busy toppling lat year’s minor premiers, Northampton, 13-12 at Sixways, Sale suffered a chastening 41-3 defeat at Saracens.
As tonight’s hosts look for a switch in fortunes, Sale boss Steve Diamond makes three changes to his starting 15 for the promoted Warriors’ visit to the AJ Bell Stadium. Jonathan Mills comes in at lock and prop forward Vadim Cobilas is set for his 100th appearance for the Sharks, while star centre Johnny Leota is back from World Cup duty having represented Samoa.
Fellow Samoan international TJ Ioane is back on the bench, along with Russian forward Andrei Ostrikov, while Josh Beaumont moves from the second row into number eight.
In the other camp, morale and belief is high. The Warriors have moved in from 500/1 for the title a week ago, to 200/1 with SkyBet this week after last Friday’s shock win.
And, unsurprisingly, Warriors boss Dean Ryan has opted to make no changes from last week’s triumphant starting line-up, but summer signing Tevita Cavubati could make his debut from the bench. Meanwhile, Val Rapava Ruskin, who was forced to withdraw from the squad late on last week, has returned to fitness and takes his place on a strong visiting bench which also includes Ryan Lamb – scorer of the last-second penalty which secured Worcester’s return to the top flight in May.
Despite their early fortunes this season, Worcester had an alarmingly poor record against Sale when tonight’s pairing came face-to-face two seasons ago. They crossed paths twice in the Premiership, twice in the Challenge Cup and once in the LV= Cup. The Warriors lost on all five occasions.
Going further back, Worcester have lost their last six meetings with the Sharks, having not won against Steve Diamond’s men since a 23-16 victory at Worcester in October 2012, while they have not taken the spoils in Sale since a 17-9 Premiership victory at Edgeley Park in November 2008.
But all records are there to be broken and the two teams can’t be split in the pre-game betting odds with both sides at 11/10 to win the game, with a draw being a 20/1 shot.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sale Sharks: Danny Cipriani
The fly-half was recently backed by Sharks boss Diamond, who said England made a mistake in not choosing him for the World Cup, but the 27-year-old playmaker failed to shine last Saturday as his side failed to score a try in their opening round fixture at Saracens. The former Wasps man will be keen to make amends tonight.
Worcester: Tom Biggs
In a excellent team performance, Biggs stood up manfully when the chips were down in Worcester’s remarkable win over Northampton last week. The Hull-born winger flexed his defensive muscle throughout as no tries fell through his side’s guard and he will be looking to star again in Worcester’s burgeoning start to the season.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Phil MacKenzie, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Charlie Ingall, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Viliami Fihaki, 7 Andy Hughes, 6 Mark Easter (capt), 5 Tom Holmes, 4 Kirill Kulemin, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Dan Baines, 1 Aston Croall.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Eifion Lewis Roberts, 19 Andrei Ostrikov, 20 James Gaskell, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Tom Brady.
Worcester: 15 Max Stelling, 14 Josh Watkins, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Ravai Fatiaki, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Elliott Davies, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Cam Goodhue, 6 Chris Jones, 5 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 4 Dean Schofield (c), 3 Rob O’Donnell, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 George Porter.
Replacements: 16 Nick Seymour, 17 Jack Cosgrove, 18 John Andress, 19 Richard de Carpentier, 20 Andrew Boyce, 21 George de Cothi, 22 Josh Matavesi, 23 James Stephenson.
Date: Friday, October 23.
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium.
Coverage: BBC Local Radio; BT Sport.
Referee: Luke Pearce (41st Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner & Paul Burton.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.