Davies aims to steady Tykes' nerve for scrap with top cats

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The closest they have come to victory was a 29-all draw three years ago. At least they go into the match at Headingley on the back of their first win of the season - against the Italian champions Calvisano - after eight straight defeats in all competitions.

Davies was keen to accentuate the positives. "We've been looking for the kind of performance we produced last week all season," he said.

"It's been difficult and we've asked ourselves a lot of questions but I think we've come out in a positive manner and put a terrific performance together. It is now important that we stop talking about good performances and start producing them consistently."

Sale already know about three members of the Tykes squad. Three of their replacements, Chris Jones, David Rees and Chris Murphy, are all former Sharks. And all three will have no illusions about what confronts Leeds today.

Davies acknowledged. "Sale will arrive at Headingley full of confidence," he added. "They have started out in terrific form in the Guinness Premiership so far, leading the way both in terms of league points and their performances.

"They have also had a tremendous start to their Heineken Cup campaign and will have high hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages after back-to-back wins. We know we will need to be at our best to compete and that is what we are striving to do."

Further south, Gloucester present an imposing challenge for Newcastle, who are a place above Leeds in the table. The Falcons' director of rugby Rob Andrew sounded almost resigned to defeat earlier this week.

"We've won at Franklin's Gardens this season, were robbed of a win at Welford Road and I suppose Kingsholm is bogey ground No 3," said the former England fly-half. "At Leicester we laid a few ghosts to rest in claiming a moral victory in what should have been an actual victory on a few counts, and Kingsholm is the only other ground where we haven't been successful since we won the league in 1998."

In the absence of captain Colin Charvis, the burden of leadership falls to Jonny Wilkinson; not that that is expected to change anything. Andrew explained: "Jonny has a tendency to be very vocal anyway with the players, so that won't change things at all really, it's just a formality."

Dean Ryan the head coach at Kingsholm is not expecting an easy game. "Newcastle are a very dangerous side, they have some outstanding backs, some big forwards and are capable of doing some real damage."

"For our group of players this is a very important period. We have always had one eye on this time of the season and hope we are good enough to cope with the obvious disruption.

"This is a severe test of our squad and a big disruption but we have a lot of confidence that we are doing the right thing and over the last couple of weeks we have introduced players into the side who are now used to winning."

The Gloucester team are more notable for who is not in the match 22. Henry Paul, linked earlier in the week with a return to rugby league - a move vehemently denied by Ryan, who said the dual international would see out his contract which expires in June 2007 - is still out in the cold. Having effectively been suspended by the club for two matches after going AWOL following the royal party thrown by Zara Phillips and Paul's Gloucester team-mate Mike Tindall, the management clearly feels the team can cope without him for the time being. They will find out how true that is later this afternoon.

Premiership team news

* LEEDS v SALE (Today, 2.45pm)

Leeds give new signing Kees Lensing his debut at loose head in place of Gavin Kerr, who is on Scotland duty, while another Scot, Gordon Bulloch, takes over at hooker from Rob Rawlinson. Lock Scott Morgan and blindside Jon Dunbar also start. Roland de Marigny replaces Tim Stimpson at full-back, with David Doherty starting on the right wing. Sale bring in Oriol Ripol on the wing, Valentin Courrent is at fly-half, England hooker Andy Titterrell replaces Sebastien Bruno, Ben Coutts is called up for Andy Sheridan and Chris Day replaces Chris Jones.


Gloucester give Anthony Allen his first Premiership start in place of Mike Tindall, Mark Foster returns on the wing for Marcel Garvey. The front row sees a complete change. Patrice Collazo is at loose head, Terry Sigley at tight head and James Parkes starts at hooker. James Forrester, released by England, is at No 8. Aussie Owen Finegan replaces Colin Charvis in the Falcons' back row. James Hoyle makes his debut on the left wing, with Mathew Tait moving inside to replace Jamie Noon. James Grindal is at scrum-half. Robbie Morris comes in at tight head for Tino Paoletti.

* LONDON IRISH v BATH (Today, 3.0pm)

Rodd Penney is at outside centre for London Irish, Paul Hodgson starts at scrum-half. Neal Hatley and Faan Rautenbach are at loose head and tight head. Nick Kennedy renews his partnership with Bob Casey at lock; Kieron Roche and Declan Danaher are on the flanks. There are starts for James Hudson, Rob Fidler, Pieter Dixon, David Barnes and Ryan Davis. Andrew Higgins is back at outside centre, Kiwi winger Joe Maddock makes his first appearance since injuring a hamstring on the opening day, while Nick Walshe is at scrum-half.


Saracens welcome back Richard Haughton on the right wing after injury. Mark Bartholomeusz makes his first start of the season, coming in at outside centre. International calls, which rob Saracens of Thomas Castaignède, Shane Byrne and Mosese Rauluni, mean appearances for Andy Kyriacou and Adam Powell, with Kyran Bracken on the bench. Northampton's longest-serving player Grant Seely makes his first start of the season, John Rudd is in for England's Ben Cohen, Dan Richmond replaces Steve Thompson, with Rhodri Davies in for Ireland's David Quinlan.