Sale Sharks will play their last home game of the 2014/15 season on Saturday with relatively little to play for following Gloucester's Challenge Cup victory all but ending any faint hopes Sale held of reaching the European Champions Cup by any avenue. Saturday also sees Mark Cueto, Michael Paterson, Will Cliff and Nathan Hines play their final game in a Sale shirt in front of the home fans and Newcastle attempt to reverse a four-month losing streak in the Premiership with Falcons' last win in the league coming back in January over London Welsh. Here's three things to watch out for for the last time this season at the AJ Bell.
Mark Cueto's Final Home Game
The main narrative of Saturday's game is, of course, that it will be the last time Sale club legend Mark Cueto plays in a Sharks shirt in front of his home fans. A one-club man his entire career and a a relic of a by-gone era in professional rugby union, much has, and will, be written about Mark Cueto as he says farewell to the only club he has ever known. Indeed look out to my very own ode to Mark Cueto later this week. For now however, Saturday will be a celebration of a brilliant and memorable career for the Premiership's all-time leading try scorer who starts on the left wing for the final time at the AJ Bell stadium. A huge send-off is expected.
Tom Arscott at Fullback?
The big surprise of Friday afternoon's team selection is that Mike Haley drops out of the starting lineup to the bench with Tom Arscott starting at fullback. Whilst I advocated in recent weeks for giving Haley a more limited role off the bench as a way of resting him and sharpening his focus on the pitch, I am very surprised that Diamond opted to select Arscott, a much better option on the wing than at fullback as his first two years at Sale have proved, to replace the former Sale Jet. In hindsight, selecting Arscott to start over the notoriously absent Luke McLean is a move to capitalise on the EQP quota that brings much needed additional revenue into the club. However given Arscott's mistake-ridden form at fullback last season I am surprised that Diamond opted to bench Haley and play Arscott there instead of incorporating an additional EQP-qualified player somewhere else in the squad - Magnus Lund instead of T.J. Ioane for example. Regardless, how Arscott performs in the 15 shirt could have a huge impact on the game so keep a spotlight on him.
Strong, Not Overly EQP Squad
A pleasant surprise given Sale's position within the Aviva Premiership and their previous track record for selecting EQP-laden matchday squads as the season nears its end to hit the aforementioned quota, Sale's team selection for Newcastle on Saturday is a very strong one. Whilst still incorporating a number of academy prospects and graduates (Ciaran Parker for example) to 'bolst' the English numbers, Sale have gone for a team largely made up of first team regulars sending out a clear message to the fans and opposition that this game is not a write-off by any stretch. Dan Braid, Danny Cipriani, Chris Cusiter, Vadim Cobilas, Sam Tuitupou and Johnny Leota all start against a similarly strong Falcons side.
Prediction: Sale Sharks 36 - 24 Newcastle Falcons
A near full-strength Sale side, with a similarly well-placed Falcons side should make this an entertaining game even with little to play for. On their home ground and with genuine game-changers on their bench, Sale should have enough to comfortably beat a Falcons team that has seriously treated water since the new year. Don't expect a repeat of the 15-14 victory Newcastle recorded in this fixture last season but do expect Sinoti Sinoti to score at least one mesmerising try.