Sharks target European glory

Sale Sharks are determined to make their mark on this season's European Cup, but skipper Jason Robinson admits: "It will be a tough ask." [more]

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Sale Sharks are determined to make their mark on this season’s European Cup, but skipper Jason Robinson admits: "It will be a tough ask."

The Guinness Premiership leaders kick off against twice-beaten European finalists Munster at Edgeley Park on Friday night, knowing they cannot afford to come unstuck.

With trips to Limerick, Castres and Newport ahead of them, Sharks’ quarter-final hopes from Pool One could be damaged beyond repair at the first hurdle if Munster emerge victorious.

Robinson leads a side packed with international experience, including new Scotland captain Jason White, yet Sale still have it all to prove.

Their European Cup record is poor with only three wins – against Glasgow, Cardiff Blues and Leinster – from 12 starts over two seasons.

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"This season it is the strongest squad we’ve had at Sale since I joined the club," said former England captain Robinson.

"We have not really done ourselves justice in the European Cup, but this year we have targeted it.

"It is going to be a very tough ask but hopefully we can rise to the occasion."

Sharks will face Munster on the back of an 18-10 victory over Premiership champions Wasps, and coach Kingsley Jones backs his skipper’s determined stance.

"We worked hard all of last season to get into the European Cup and we are not going to waste that effort," said Jones.

"We are not content just to be taking part, we want to make sure we do something in the tournament.

"The focus has to be on winning our three home games and then trying to pick up one or two wins on the road and I believe we can put up a good fight against Munster and get a win.

"It could be fair to say that we have not risen to the challenge in the two seasons we have played in the European Cup.

"However, now we are setting our sights a good deal higher. It is not good enough just to keep qualifying for the European Cup, and I am targeting a home quarter-final draw."

Munster though, might have something to say about that, especially given their outstanding European Cup record of reaching the tournament’s knockout stages for seven successive seasons.

"I am a firm believer that Munster will one day win the European Cup. I don’t know if I will be around for that day, but it will happen," said Munster captain Anthony Foley.

"We know a lot of people would love to see us win the title after getting so close, but we also know that none of the teams are going to hand it to us on a plate."

Munster will be without injured British & Irish Lions lock Paul O’Connell for their trip to Stockport, while Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer is on the bench, but former rugby league star Gary Connolly lines up in the centre and O’Connell’s fellow Lions Ronan O’Gara, John Hayes and Donncha O’Callaghan all start.

Elsewhere, Glasgow travel to Bourgoin in Pool Five, while Ulster hand former Australia Test lock Justin Harrison a European Cup debut against Pool Four visitors Treviso.

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