Teams visiting Welford Road generally have enough on their plate in the way of immediate problems without looking ahead to next season. Sale like to do things a little differently, though. By way of preparing for tomorrow afternoon's big Premiership match with Leicester, where an away victory might knock the champions clean out of contention for this year's title, they have staged a nice piece of northern one-upmanship by luring Braam van Straaten away from Leeds.
One of the master marksmen in world rugby, the former Springbok will cross the Pennines the moment his Headingley contract expires at the start of June. Van Straaten has signed a two-year deal and will prove particularly handy to Sale in the early stages of next season, when Charlie Hodgson is likely to be elsewhere – either confined to the physiotherapist's couch or, if he recovers from injury sooner than anticipated, in Wallaby country with England.
The Tigers, who face an almighty Heineken Cup rumble with Munster tomorrow week, may bring the unfamiliar figure of Austin Healey to bear on Sale. The Leicester Lip, who is expected to feature for the first time in four months after recovering from an Achilles injury, may just be in time to talk his way into his country's summer trek to the Antipodes.
Two of the three relegation-haunted sides in action tomorrow – Saracens and London Irish, who meet at Vicarage Road – will be at something close to full strength. The Exiles have made seven changes to the side that lost catastrophically to Harlequins last month, the most notable being the return of the influential Ryan Strudwick after long-term injury. Bath, however, have been denied the services of both Mike Tindall and Adam Vander against Wasps at Adams Park.
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