by Ben Coles
EIGHT POINTS adrift at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership table, Sale Sharks travel to Worcester this evening knowing that another defeat will only widen the worrying gap between themselves and the rest of the pack.
The new season has been cruel so far to the Sharks, with just one win in eight matches coming against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup. Their struggles are not down to a lack of talent – Richie Gray and Danny Cipriani were noteworthy marquee signings – but the implementation of a smooth running coaching team has been a rocky process, one that lead to the dismissal of forwards coach Steve Scott earlier this month.
This season was heralded as the start of a rebuilding process that would take Sale back to the glory days of 2005-2006 but so far it’s not happening. Travelling to Sixways in the past would have represented a great opportunity for teams to pick up a win, but not anymore. Now in their second year back in the Premiership, the Warriors close-season recruitment drive was canny.
Paul Hodgson, Nikki Walker, Dean Schofield, Jon Clarke and many more have arrived at Sixways bringing with them much needed experience . That hirsute old-stager Andy Goode continues to tick the scoreboard over and whilst Worcester continually struggled last season to score enough tries, this time round they already have a dozen to their name, more than double Sale’s tally to date. More damning is they have shipped 17 tries, a ratio that makes their current position at the bottom of the table no surprise.
Their troubles in the forwards have led to Steve Diamond taking charge of the pack, with John Mitchell incoming in a consultancy role and a redoubling of their recruitment drive is currently underway to bring in two Southern Hemisphere props to shore up the front row.
Any lack of nous at the coalface against Matt Mullan and Jon Andress will only end in defeat, which means 20-year old Sale loosehead Ross Harrison will have to hold his own against Worcester’s gnarled props. On a cold Friday night, creating a solid platform is everything and if Sale can produce a similar performance to the one they put in against Leicester in the first-half back in Round 6, then they will have a chance to unleash their ball-starved backs.
If Worcester truly are one of Sale’s relegation rivals, which feels like a disservice given their solid start to the season, then this is a must-win game for the Sharks to keep in touch. Lose the pack above you, like Newcastle did last season, and you can find that the gap becomes too large to redress. Friday night at Sixways may not be pretty, but the result will mean everything to both sides.
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