Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond says he is excited about the prospect of James O’Connor linking up for the first time with Faf De Klerk in Friday’s opening European Challenge Cup tie against Toulouse at the AJ Bell Stadium (8pm).
A summer ankle operation has meant that 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 an 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 Diamond revealed he shared 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 on Friday. He just needs a good, steady game and, fingers crossed, he’ll play well.
— Sale Sharks (@SaleSharksRugby) 12 October 2017
“I don’t want to expect too much from James on Friday – 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 players 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 the Top 14.
But the Sharks director of rugby said it was a prospect he and his players were relishing.
“Last year we had Saracens and Toulon in the Champions Cup, this year we have the top two in 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 Friday and we want to keep up our good record at home.”
15 Mike Haley
14 Denny Solomona
13 Sam James
12 Mark Jennings
11 Josh Charnley
10 James O’Connor
9 Faf de Klerk
1 Ross Harrison
2 Rob Webber
3 Halani Aulika
4 Bryn Evans
5 Andrei Ostrikov
6 Cameron Neild
7 Ben Curry
8 Jono Ross Captain
16 Marc Jones
17 James Flynn
18 WillGriff John
19 George Nott
20 Laurence Pearce
21 David Seymour
22 Will Cliff
23 Arron Reed