Sale and Dragons aiming to set up crunch tie
Sale and Newport Gwent Dragons will go into the penultimate round of the preliminary stages of the Challenge Cup on Friday night aiming to set up a winner-takes-all pool two clash.
The table-topping Dragons meet Castres at Rodney Parade while the Sharks, led for the first time by England call-up Josh Beaumont, go to France to take on point-less Pau.
Beaumont's men are second in the group, just two points behind the leaders, and victory at Stade du Hameau, where they triumphed on their last visit in 2005, would keep them in contention for the quarter-finals going into their last pool game against Dragons at the AJ Bell Stadium next Thursday.
"We've put ourselves in a good position and it's down to us to qualify for the quarter-finals now," said Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond. "If we can get the victory at Pau on Friday, it comes down to a big game next Thursday.
"It's a big couple of weeks for us. To win away in Pau will be difficult."
The Sharks have already triumphed in France this season, against Castres, and will be aiming to complete another French double following their 29-20 win over Pau at the AJ Bell Stadium in November.
Beaumont, the 23-year-old s on of England's 1980 Grand Slam captain Bill Beaumont, captains Sale in the absence of former All Black Dan Braid, who could have played his last game for the club after damaging a shoulder in their last match against Wasps a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, the Dragons are set to welcome back Wales winger Hallam Amos as they look to avenge their only defeat in the Challenge Cup this season and secure a last-eight spot for the second successive year.
Amos has not featured for the region this season after suffering a dislocated shoulder during Wales' World Cup win over England but returns in place of the injured Tom Prydie and will get the chance to push for a place in Warren Gatland's squad for the Six Nations, which is named next Tuesday.
Castres, the 2013 French champions who are currently eighth in the Top 14, edged a 32-29 victory over the Dragons at the Stade Pierre Antoine in November and kept their qualification hopes alive with a bonus-point win over Pau in a re-arranged game last weekend.
In Friday's other game, Edinburgh have the chance to take over at the top of pool five, at least for 24 hours, when they host struggling Agen at Murrayfield.
Last season's runners-up are locked in a three-way tussle for top spot and need a bonus-point victory to bridge the two-point gap on table-topping Grenoble, who visit second-placed London Irish on Saturday.
Edinburgh, who have won 11 of their last 14 matches in the Challenge Cup, including a 27-6 win over Agen and are unbeaten at home in the competition since 1997, have to go to Grenoble in their final pool match.