Match Preview: Sale Sharks
Glasgow Warriors open their 2019/20 Heineken Champions Cup campaign on Saturday lunchtime, as Dave Rennie’s side welcome Sale Sharks to Scotstoun.
After a 2018/19 season that saw Rennie’s men reach only their second-ever quarter-final in the competition, the Warrior Nation will be hoping for a repeat performance at least this time around.
Yet with two talent-loaded Premiership sides and a threat from across the English Channel also in Pool Two, the Warriors know they will need to be on top form to progress to the knockout stages.
First up for Rennie and company are Sale Sharks, with a squad packed with international stars making it’s first appearance in Europe’s premier club competition since the 2016/17 campaign.
Here’s how the Sharks are shaping up ahead of Saturday’s match:
Sale Sharks form guide
Steve Diamond’s side currently sit fourth in the Premiership table after four rounds of competition, having recorded two wins and two defeats in their season so far.
A last-gasp penalty miss from Rob du Preez consigned the Sharks to an 18-16 home defeat by Gloucester in round one, despite having raced to a 10-0 half-time lead at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The men from the north-west of England responded in style seven days later, as they ran in six tries to dispatch London Irish 41-7 at the Madejski Stadium, before being edged out away to Bristol in a tight affair in round three.
Victory over Wasps last time out sent the Sharks into European action in winning form, with Rob du Preez kicking 17 points in a 28-18 home success.
James O’Connor headlined the departures from the AJ Bell this summer, with the Australian utility back returning to Super Rugby with the Reds following his Rugby World Cup commitments.
Former Warrior Josh Strauss also bade farewell to the English side as he made the switch to the Bulls, whilst Russian second-rower Andrei Ostrikov swapped Sale for the French Alps by signing with Grenoble.
Paolo Odogwu and George Nott also departed the AJ Bell, joining Premiership rivals Wasps and London Irish respectively.
It was with their summer recruitment that Diamond and his team made the most headlines, however. Chief amongst the new arrivals was Rugby World Cup-winning second-rower Lood de Jager, despite suffering an injury in the World Cup final that will delay his Sale debut.
Also making the trip north from South Africa was a host of Super Rugby stars; the du Preez brothers, Rob, Dan and Jean-Luc all agreed terms with the Sharks, whilst Akker van der Merwe and Embrose Papier also made the switch to the AJ Bell.
There was also a brace of arrivals from newly-relegated Newcastle Falcons – England flanker Mark Wilson put pen to paper on a season-long loan deal, with full-back Simon Hammersley joining on a permanent basis.
Ones to watch
With an impressive turn of pace for a front-row forward, South African hooker van der Merwe has impressed in his outing for the Sharks so far this season. Capped three times for the Springboks, the 28-year-old’s dynamism is a real threat for opposing defences.
Club captain Jono Ross leads from the front week in, week out. Capable of playing across the back-row, the former Bulls and Stade Francais man is renowned for his work ethic by opponents across Europe, whilst his ball-carrying is a key aspect to the Sharks’ attacking platform.
In a squad packed with lethal finishers, one name in particular will be of note to fans of Scottish rugby. Whilst he may have missed out on selection for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Byron McGuigan’s international record of three tries in his five Scotland caps to date is an indication as to his abilities on the wing. A former Warrior, McGuigan’s average of a try every other game for the Sharks is up there with the best finishers in the Premiership.
Saturday’s encounter will be the first competitive meeting between the two sides since the 2002/03 season, in which Glasgow and Sale met in Pool Three of the Heineken Cup.
Tries from Jonny Petrie and Jason White, coupled with 16 points from the boot of Tommy Hayes, gave Glasgow a 26-14 win at Hughenden back in October 2002.
The Sharks exacted their revenge on Glasgow in the return fixture, however, running in seven tries to claim a 45-3 victory at Heywood Road.
Alexandre Ruiz will take charge of Saturday’s match, with the French referee having last taken charge of the Warriors in their defeat to Exeter back in October 2017.
Adrien Descottes and Cedric Marchat will be his assistants on the touchlines, whilst Patrick Dellac will act as the TMO.