Downbeat Sale hope Hodgson and Peel can inspire upturn

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The Independent Online

Sale v Northampton

Most sides in trouble – and Sale have more trouble than they can handle right now – confront their demons by flagging up their virtues in public and addressing their vulnerabilities in private.

The former champions, the only side to have broken a Leicester-Wasps domination stretching back more than a decade, are doing it the other way round. Unfortunately, they sound like Uriah Heep when they should be looking gladiatorial.

Every time the management sends out a missive to followers apologising for the current run of form, it makes them appear weaker. Even Kingsley Jones, their button-bright director of rugby, was at it yesterday. "I understand entirely that our supporters are hugely disappointed and I know they can vote with their feet, but we don't want that to happen," he said after naming his side for tomorrow's meeting with Northampton at Edgeley Park – a very serious match indeed for a team sharing bottom spot with Leeds. "We need them to stick together and be an extra man for us."

Sale go in without their two England backs, the wing Mark Cueto and the centre Mathew Tait, but can at least call on a high-class pairing at half-back in Dwayne Peel and Charlie Hodgson. Northampton, at the other end of the table, look as powerful as ever.

Leeds v Saracens

If it is possible to feel positive about slumming it at the foot of the league, Leeds find themselves in this peculiar state of mind. Consecutive victories have cast any certainties about relegation to the four winds and the Yorkshiremen have it in them to chalk up another win tomorrow against a Saracens side badly missing the captaincy skills of Steve Borthwick and starting to wonder whether kicking the ball in the air is the best way to plot a route through a Premiership campaign.

Andy Gomarsall, the veteran scrum-half, is still injured, but the centre Scott Barrow returns to the Tykes' back division. The visitors make six changes, the most significant in the front row, where Matias Aguero and Schalk Brits are given starting places at loose-head prop and hooker.

Leicester v London Irish

The Exiles rediscovered some equilibrium last week and, with Paul Hodgson available to them thanks to his temporary release from the England camp, they should come on strong tonight at the most forbidding of Premiership fastnesses. Leicester have three Six Nations men back on duty while wing Lote Tuqiri plays his last game for the club ... in the centre.

Harlequins v Worcester

Worcester are in the thick of the relegation scrap, but last week's win over Newcastle gave them a lift. However they are the only Premiership side still without a win on the road and Quins, bolstered by George Robson's return at lock, should see them off today.

Newcastle v Bath

Bath have won their last five Premiership matches and will fancy their chances tomorrow. Olly Barkley's game-management, a hot back-row combination and an all-international front row on the bench poses an 80-minute threat against one of the league's more fragile outfits.

Wasps v Gloucester

Rob Webber leads Wasps tomorrow on his 50th Premiership appearance. Gloucester will give first league starts to the outside-half Tim Taylor, the scrum-half Andy Williams and the prop Pierre Capdevielle.

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