The back-to-back fixtures midway through the Heineken Cup pool stage lend a special frisson, and explain why Sale's ordinarily mild-mannered Chris Jones peppers his description of the rematch with Stade Français this afternoon with words such as "revenge" and "retribution". That Jones's own very bright future as a lock forward for England must go on hold while he turns out at blindside flanker for his club is secondary to his desire to make life difficult when swanky Stade hit Stockport.
"There's a lot of emotion still running high from last weekend," said Jones, reflecting on Sale's 27-16 defeat in Paris. "In the Premiership you can lose and feel down, and before you play that same team again there's months of rugby in between. The emotions are fairly fresh when you play again a week later, and hopefully we can channel those in a positive way and gain some retribution."
What rankles with Jones and company is the feeling that Stade, who killed the first match off only with an interception try by Julien Saubade in the dying minutes, got away with sporting murder. The occasion was all-singing, all-dancing - cancan girls from the Moulin Rouge and endless ear-shattering renditions of the Parisians' Europop anthems - and Sale ended up out on their feet with not a bonus point to show for a fine forward effort.
They also ended up with their England wing Mark Cueto and France hooker Sébastien Bruno newly crocked. Already out for the long term are Charlie Hodgson, Andrew Sheridan and Jason White. The latter three poked their noses into the club in midweek, although they had to pick their moment, as the fit members of the squad - a term to be used advisedly - were given Monday and Tuesday off.
"We've reached the stage where it's not so much about rotating the team in matches as managing the downtime in between," said Jones, for here is a bright and mature 26-year-old well versed in the competing demands of club and country. As such he is not so obviously rankled over his switch from lock just as his country had settled for considering him in the second row. He will have to wait to press further his Test case on the back of a more than decent 80 minutes locking the left side of the scrum for England against South Africa last time out.
"There is a massive difference between the positions," said Jones, who locked for England for the first time in Australia last June, having made his debut on the flank in early 2004. "In the second row you have to try and get some power back in your legs before you start running. That's why I enjoy keeping the other string to my bow. In the back row you don't stand up from a scrum with your head spinning; you can just get up and start running."
When used as a lock by Sale - which has been more often than not for more than two years - Jones leads the line-out and calls the throws. England gave him the same responsibility against the Springboks, when he started alongside Wasps' Tom Palmer. The match was lost but the pairing of Jones and Palmer, 27, won plaudits for the combination of bulk, jumping ability and speed that most coaches would consider ideal. Trouble was that previously during the reign of Andy Robinson other players were picked, or injuries to Palmer got in the way.
"It's nice to fight for one position rather than a potential three or four," said Jones, mindful that the first match of the 2007 Six Nations' Championship is just six weeks away. "The fact I got 20 minutes as a sub in the first South Africa match and a full game in the second one was a real positive for me. In a side that's losing it's hard for people to find positives, but a few people have said I played well and I'm happy with that." Robinson may have made a few too many mistakes in selection but he was not responsible for the Twickenham programme notes which listed Jones's weight as a slimline 95kg. The Mancunian who once played for Billy Beaumont's old club Fylde has been eating for England: another indication of where, figuratively and literally, he wants to be.
"I'm actually 112kg," he said. "My girlfriend has been feeding me well. She was looking at the programme and was going to ring them up and get it changed." With his club, country and the rest of us too, Chris Jones is finally making his presence felt.Reuse content