Gary Gold: Sale Sharks match a massive challenge for Bath Rugby
Bath have made four changes to the side that faced Harlequins two weeks ago as they prepare for tonight’s Aviva Premiership match against Sale Sharks at the Saltford City Stadium (8pm).
All four changes come in the pack as Wales prop Paul James and England’s Davey Wilson return to the front row following the culmination of the RBS 6 Nations Championship, where they are joined by hooker Rob Webber.
Club captain Stuart Hooper returns, with Dominic Day moving to the bench. Hooper partners Dave Attwood, who this week extended his contract at the club, in the second row. The abrasive pairing of Francois Louw and Carl Fearns continue on the flanks, with Ben Skirving again taking his place at the base of the scrum.
Peter Stringer, whose loan deal with Bath will now run until the end of the season, and Tom Heathcote continue to build their half-back partnership, with the backline unchanged.
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Kyle Eastmond and Matt Banahan link up in the centres, while Tom Biggs and Horacio Agulla provide speed, agility and power out wide. Nick Abendanon completes the line-up at full-back.
Tonight is Bath’s first match since their LV= Cup semi-final heartbreak at Harlequins, who went on to beat Sale in Sunday’s final. The Sharks beat Premiership leaders Saracens in the last four and Bath head coach Gary Gold says Bath will not be taking them lightly despite Sale being one off the bottom in the table.
Gold said: “It’s going to be incredibly difficult. Sale on a Friday night is not easy.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge and probably a good challenge for us post the disappointment of the semi-final because it gives us an opportunity to rectify our poor performance.
“We have a massive amount of respect for them. It’s irrelevant what’s happened at the start of the season and it’s irrelevant where they are in the table.
“They are a good team, they are well coached and they are going to be bloody tough.”
With London Welsh visiting The Rec next Saturday, Bath face the Premiership’s bottom two on consecutive weekends.
But with their final three games against, Quins, Leicester Tigers and Sarries, Gold says Bath cannot look too far ahead if they want to give themselves the best possible chance of finishing in the top four.
“The fact of the matter is we are seven points off fourth and we need to win a lot more of the next five games than we lose, whoever the opposition is,” said Gold.
Gold added that forward Ryan Caldwell will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery.
Sale (home to Bath, tonight, 8pm): Cameron Shepherd, Charlie Amesbury, Jonny Leota, Sammy Tuitupou, Mark Cueto, Nick Macleod, Dwayne Peel, Alasdair Dickinson, Marc Jones, Henry Thomas, James Gaskell, Andrei Ostrikov, Dan Braid, David Seymour Captain, Andy Powell. Replacements: Tommy Taylor, Ross Harrison, Tony Buckley, Fraser McKenzie, Kearnan Myall, Nathan Fowles, Danny Cipriani, Richie Vernon.
Bath: Nick Abendanon; Horacio Agulla, Matt Banahan, Kyle Eastmond, Tom Biggs; Tom Heathcote, Peter Stringer; Paul James, Rob Webber, David Wilson, Stuart Hooper (capt.), Dave Attwood, Francois Louw, Carl Fearns, Ben Skirving. Replacements: Ross Batty, Nathan Catt, Anthony Perenise, Dominic Day, Mat Gilbert, Michael Claassens, Ollie Devoto, Semesa Rokoduguni.