Sharks in at deep end as injured star duo to miss Clermont trip

SALE SHARKS will enter a Heineken Cup cauldron today without two of their main ingredients — England World Cup stars Mathew Tait and Andrew Sheridan.

But Sharks boss Philippe Saint-Andre has talked up both players’ fitness prospects for a crunch Edgeley Park encounter with European champions Munster tomorrow week.

Full-back Tait (sore hamstring) and prop Sheridan (arm) both miss the opening Pool One appointment with Saint-Andre’s former club Clermont Auvergne at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.

Scotland international Rory Lamont wears the number 15 jersey, with Frenchman Lionel Faure packing down in Sale’s front-row alongside Neil Briggs and Eifion Roberts.

But former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson has been relegated to bench duty as Saint-Andre hands Richard Wigglesworth — England’s RBS 6 Nations scrum-half last season — the number 10 shirt.

Saint-Andre said: “It has been a difficult week preparing for the game with Mathew Tait pulling out with a sore hamstring.

“But both he and Andrew Sheridan should be fit to return for the Munster game. Games don’t come any tougher than this one on Saturday.

“Clermont topped the table (France’s Top 14) last year, and they have started well this season. They will attack from the start, and we need to be ready for them.”

England wing David Strettle admits he is “deeply gutted” to be sidelined for Harlequins’ Pool Four encounter against the Scarlets today.

Strettle is unlikely to play again until December after suffering another foot injury — his third in 14 months — during Quins’ Guinness Premiership victory over Worcester eight days ago.

He said: “I am deeply gutted to be missing the game, but I know the team is really excited about playing and looking to come away with a win.

“The Heineken Cup is not only a great indicator of how the club is progressing, but it is also a reward for the performances that we put in last year in order to qualify for this event.”

Charlie Amesbury replaces Strettle for the Scarlets’ last European game before leaving Stradey Park and moving to their new Scarlets stadium.

Gloucester, last season’s beaten quarter-finalists know a winning start is vital against Kingsholm visitors Biarritz, with the 2006 Heineken runners-up including England international Magnus Lund at blindside flanker. Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan said: “This competition has the best players in the world playing in it, and some of the pool games and then the progression games are enormous. Tomorrow is no exception.

“The challenges in the Heineken Cup are obvious, but we want to hold on to key characteristics that make our game a threat.

“This is a contest we can be energised by — it should be fantastic.”

Cardiff Blues, who host Gloucester at the Millennium Stadium next weekend, should prove too strong for Calvisano in Italy today.

But Blues head coach David Young warned: “Calvisano will certainly be up for the first game of the competition.

“When you look at the (Heineken Cup) scalps the Italian teams have taken, it has always been in the first or second round. We played there a few years ago, and we know what to expect.”

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