Diamond can’t wait to pair up new signings
STEVE Diamond is excited about the prospect of Sale’s James O’Connor linking up for the first time with Faf de Klerk in tonight’s opening European Challenge Cup tie against Toulouse at the AJ Bell Stadium (8pm).
A summer ankle operation has meant Australian fly-half O’Connor, who joined Sale from Toulon in the summer, has yet to make his full debut for the club.
However, after making two appearances from the replacements’ bench, O’Connor will start for the first time at fly-half for the visit of Toulouse, where he will form a dynamic-looking half-back partnership with South African scrum-half De Klerk.
It’s a prospect that Sale fans have been looking forward to ever since the duo joined the club in June, and Sharks director of rugby Diamond revealed he shares that sense of anticipation and excitement.
“We knew when we signed Faf and James about the capabilities of their running rugby and who wouldn’t want to see them both out on the pitch?,” said Diamond.
“James has impressed coming off the bench in the last two games. Defensively he is good and he knows how to run the shape for us.
“He doesn’t need to pull every rabbit out of the hat tonight. He just needs a good, steady game and, fingers crossed, he’ll play well.
“I don’t want to expect too much from James tonight - I want him to run our shape for us and get our forwards into the game with some big carries going off him and let him be the magician with Faf.
“When Jono Ross recommended Faf to me, we watched some footage of him in action and I thought how much he would help our crowd. Everybody wants to watch a guy like him.
“Combine those two lads with Denny (Solomona), Byron (McGuigan) and Josh (Charnley) and we have some really exciting players.”
Sale find themselves in the toughest of Challenge Cup pools given that both Toulouse and fellow French opponents Lyon are flying high in the Top 14.
But Diamond says it is a prospect he and his players are relishing.
“Last year we had Saracens and Toulon in the Champions Cup, this year we have the top two in the French league, but it’s a welcome break for us given how competitive the Premiership is,” said Diamond.
“We welcome anyone at home and we need to win and if we do that then we need to claim bonus points away from home because it will be a difficult game going to Lyon next week.
“But we’ve got all guns blazing for tonight and we want to keep up our good record at home.”
The Warburton Bridge will be toll-free between 4.30pm and 7.30pm tonight courtesy of Sale.
The hope is it will alleviate rushhour congestion by the barriers being continuously lifted, meaning the commute home will be swifter and travel will be smoother to the AJ Bell Stadium for the match against Toulouse.