Note: As part of Shark Tank Rugby's coverage of Sale Sharks this season, "Three Things" will be a weekly feature that will preview Sale's next fixture with specific focus on three individual aspects of the game both on and off the field.
After an opening week 20-29 defeat to Bath Rugby last weekend, Sale Sharks will look to bounce back with a trip to Kingsholm and Gloucester Rugby on Saturday. Here are three things to consider before this weekend's game:
1) Who is unavailable to play?
A by-product of their defeat by Bath, Sale saw Captain Dan Braid, Mark Cueto, Marc Jones and Ross Harrison all forced off the field over the course of 80 minutes due to injury. Sale's in-house policy in regards to injuries is typically one of reticence so until the squad is announced on Friday at 12pm, it is anyone's guess as to whether any of the above will feature. Braid as Captain would likely be Sale's biggest loss, although the injury-ravaged depth at Hooker could mean if Marc Jones is not able to feature, latest Shark recruit Shalva Mamukashvili or 19 year-old Cameron Neild could be asked to play significant minutes, likely opposite Glocuester's former British Lion, Richard Hibbard. The aforementioned Braid and Jones, in addition to Winger Mark Cueto and Prop Ross Harrison and last season's centre pairing Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota who were both notable absences last weekend, are all staples of Sale's first choice team but it as yet unclear which player's returns are imminent and which player are set for a lengthier stay on the sidelines.
2) What changes will be made for Gloucester?
Without knowing the answer to Question 1, who is injured and unavailable for Saturday, we are no closer to answering Question 2, what changes will Steve Diamond and co. make for the test of Gloucester at Kingsholm? However it is reasonable to imagine that Sale will have identified the problems that plagued their defeat to Bath, most notably the ill-discpline, missed tackles and lack of penetrative play in attack, and will look to make appropriate changes to the starting line-up to address said problems. Tongan No.8 Vilhami Fihaki is a possibility to come into the team as an unforced change either replacing Mark Easter at No.8 or being brought onto the bench as a stronger ball-carrying option, additionally both Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota returned to training this week and either, if their fitness prevails, could be brought into Sale's midfield. Should Mark Cueto, Dan Braid, or Marc Jones NOT make the trip down to "Castle Grim" due to injury, look for Tom Arscott, Magnus Lund, or Shalva Mamukashvili respectively to replace them in Sale's starting lineup.
3) Have Gloucester fixed the issues from their thumping by Northampton?
To say Gloucester did not play well in their opening game against Northampton last Friday is putting it midly. Yes, Saints were at their absolute clinical best but Gloucester were simply woeful in every aspect of the game in their 53-6 loss. The issues that dogged their scrum from last season do not have appeared to have disappeared even with the additions of John Afoa and Richard Hibbard, they produced no offensive pressure against Saints struggling to link any phases of play together when they had the ball and on defence, Gloucester were unable to gain any momentum throughout as Saints retained possession with relative ease and strolled through some incredibly poor Gloucester tackling and defensive alignments.
Such a performance for a team of Gloucester's calibre, talent level and investment is unacceptable and both David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher will have Gloucester working incredibly hard this week to bounce back with a win over Sale. Nevertheless, if Sale are able to establish dominance in the scrum and Gloucester cannot produce a more coherent attacking stratagem, one feels this is a game well within Sale's ability to win.