Sale will look to build off their bonus-point victory over Wasps last weekend as they head down to Welford Road for the second round of this year's LV Cup. Here's three things to keep an eye on:
An academy graduate and long-time Sale Jet, Nathan Fowles is set to make his first start for the club this season despite the release of Scottish international Chris Cusiter back to the club after being omitted from their match day 23 for the Scotland-Argentina game.
Fowles is someone I have made no secret of my excitement for. Playing in the Darlington 7s at the start of the season, Fowles showed off all of the attributes that makes him such a talented prospect; quick-thinking, speed to burn and a perpetual danger to break makes comparisons amongst the Sale faithful to current England scrum-half Danny Care are both inevitable and accurate. His game-time has been limited so far this season however with both Chris Cusiter and Will Cliff firmly entrenched ahead of him in the Sale scrum-half pecking order making the Leicester game on Sunday an excellent opportunity for Fowles to stake his claim for increased gametime. It will be very interesting to see just how Fowles gets the Sale chains moving and if he can contribute to a rare win at Welford Road.
Fowles' 'ceiling' as a player is much higher than fellow scrum-half Will Cliff's and with Chris Cluster's deal expiring at the end of next season, Fowles who at which point will be 23, will, if all goes to plan, be first in line to inherit the number 9 shirt. Strong performances in the opportunities he is afforded before then however, such as on Sunday, may accelerate that process. Definitely a player to keep an eye on.
A very strong Sale pack.
Upon reading the team sheet for Sunday's game, I was surprised to see a very strong selection of Sale forwards picked to start the game. Once injuries (Nathan Hines et al.) had been factored in, it is only Ross Harrison deputising for Vadim Cobilas who is on international duty with Moldova that is not at current, a clear first-choice member of Sale's pack (more on Josh Beaumont later). The relative strength of the Sale pack indicates just how high this competition is on Sale's list of priorities this season (rightly so in this writer's opinion) but it is also a dynamic that should be observed during Sunday's game. Sale's scrum has struggled mightily this season regardless of competition, even against a clearly second-string Wasps side last weakened. Considering Leicester's starting scrum is comprised predominately of academy players, it will be especially disconcerting if Sale once again struggled at the set-piece considering the inexperience of their opposition.
Josh Beaumont is now Sale's salvation at No.8
Without wishing to sound like a metaphorical stuck record and considering I wrote a piece last week on how Magnus Lund could be Sale's solution at No.8, I'm afraid I have to draw attention again to the selection of Josh Beaumont at No.8 against Leicester. Beaumont put in a MOTM performance for Sale last weekend against Wasps (his best yet in a Sale shirt by a long way) despite being shifted midway from lock to No.8 where he put in an equally impressive performance.
Beaumont is clearly highly regarded by the Sale staff as both a lock and a backorder and considering the weakness that has been No.8 for Sale this year, Beaumont could very well step in and fill a massive void for Sale considering the noticeable improvements he has made in ball-carrying and as a lineout receiver. A second impressive game in successive weeks on Sunday would likely earn him a starting berth against London Irish next weekend as the rotation of the Sale squad begins to formulate greater competition for places.
Prediction: Leicester Tigers 20 - 24 Sale Sharks
A stronger pack to begin the game and some exciting prospects in the backline should give Sale a good opportunity to pick up their first win at Welford Road since 2009. Never discount Tigers though.