Sale travel up to Kingston Park on Sunday afternoon to face Newcastle Falcons in the return of the LV Cup. Sale are currently third in their group (5 points) behind Cardiff (8 points) and Northampton Saints (9 points) making this an absolute must-win if Sale stand any chance of qualifying for the competition's later stages. Here's three things to watch out for:
Rotation, rotation, rotation.
Further rotating the already-rotated team that was humbled 65-10 at Thromond Park last Sunday, Diamond has selected a variety of squad members with nary a first-teamer in sight. In come the likes of rarely-seen Phil Mackenzie, Vilhami Fihaki, Maxim Cobilas whilst less marginalised players (although still backups) such as Tom Brady, Mark Easter and Andy Forsyth retain their places for a second consecutive week. Its clear Sale are using the LV competition to give less-frequently used players some gametime and blood in some youngsters which brings me to:
Sale are fielding an incredibly youthful team for Sunday's game. By my reckoning, eleven of Sale's twenty-three strong match day squad are under the age of 25 and starting debuts are being given to academy products Ciaran Parker, George Nott and Sam Bedlow. In addition, fellow youngster Nathan Fowles is given a rare start whilst both Andy Hughes and Sam James make the Sale bench. Sunday's game should serve as an exciting opportunity for many of the graduating Jets to make an impact on the Sale first team as they continue to receive first team experience.
TJ Ioane starts
The newest Sale Shark (sorry Briggsy you don't quite count yet), TJ Ioane makes his first competitive start for Sale against Falcons this weekend. Similar to the Jets, this will be an opportunity for Ioane to show the Sale coaches just what he can do over an extended period of gametime and force his way into the first team plans. He starts at blindside flanker rounding out a mouth-wateringly hard-running back row duo of him plus fellow Pacific Islander Vilhami Fihaki which should give the Falcons defence fits and starts all game long.
Prediction: Newcastle Falcons 23-20 Sale Sharks
Falcons are fielding a slightly stronger and more experienced side whilst Sale obviously have eyes on the next few weeks in the Premiership and have opted to rest even some of their 'rotation' players. It should be a high-scoring affair, LV games usually are, but I can see Falcons' superior cohesiveness that comes from picking a stronger team as giving them a slight advantage.