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Pat Lam names returning fly-half for 'one of the tougher challenges'

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22: Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam looks on as the team arrive prior to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Newcastle Falcons and Bristol Bears at Kingston Park on December 22, 2023 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

After sustaining a hamstring injury in their round one victory over Leicester Tigers in October, fly-half AJ MacGinty will make his return when Bristol Bears face Sale Sharks on Friday night.

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With Callum Sheedy ruled out through injury, MacGinty is back to take on his former club in the round 11 clash at Salford Community Stadium.

Injured Virimi Vakatawa is replaced by James Williams at inside centre, while Benhard Janse van Rensburg moves to outside centre and Gabriel Ibitoye returns to the back three as Rich Lane drops to the bench.

Fixture
Gallagher Premiership
Sale
14 - 22
Full-time
Bristol
All Stats and Data

In the second row, Josh Caulfield replaces the injured James Dun, while Jake Woolmore comes into the front row and Steven Luatua continues as captain in the absence of Fitz Harding.

Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, said: “Going up to Sale on a Friday night is one of the tougher challenges in the Gallagher Premiership, highlighted by the fact that they have not lost at home in the league this season.

“We know playing as a team for 80mins will give us the best chance of success, and that is our main focus on Friday night.”

Bristol Bears Team:

15 Max Malins, 14 Noah Heward, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 James Williams, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Harry Randall, 1 Jake Woolmore, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Joe Batley, 6 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Magnus Bradbury.

Replacements
16 Will Capon, 17 Sam Grahamslaw, 18 George Kloska, 19 Joe Owen, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 23 Rich Lane.

Sale Sharks team:

15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Sam James, 12 Rekeiti Ma’asi-White, 11 Arron Reed, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Gus Warr, 1 Ross Harrison, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Nick Schonert, 4 Cobus Wiese, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 7 Ben Curry ©, 8 Jean-Luc du Preez.

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Replacements
16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Tumy Onasanya, 18 James Harper, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Sam Dugdale, 21 Nye Thomas, 22 Tom Curtis, 23 Telusa Veainu.

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Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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