Sale Sharks fan, Tom Davies, blogs about his trip up North, for Sale Sharks' opening game at Salford City Stadium.
"There's a feeling of community and togetherness"
Arriving at Salford City Stadium - the new home of Sale Sharks - you already begin to get the feel that a brand new start for the Aviva Premiership side in an impressive, vastly improved playing environment provides the potential springboard to success for a team that has stuttered and struggled in recent times.
The recently-vacated Edgeley Park in Stockport rightly holds a firm place in the hearts of most Sale fans. The old ground plays host to a number of memories for Sharks followers - most notably the glorious 2005/06 title-winning season that saw the team playing some spectacular, free-flowing rugby and culminated in claiming the Premiership crown; in-so-doing breaking the monopoly that Leicester and London Wasps had held on the league for the previous decade.
But as that seminal Sharks side was swiftly disassembled, the ground they called home was also visibly degrading; and it became abundantly clear that despite all the sentimentality of Edgeley Park, the team required a fresh start in a superior playing arena before they risked getting left behind in the ever-developing modern game.
The answer comes in the form of the Salford City Stadium - built for £16 million as part of a wider development by Peel Holdings and Salford city council - a 12,000 capacity stadium with an inspiring main stand, a perfect playing surface and the facilities to match.
Situated conveniently closer to the centre of Manchester, the stadium immediately looks impressive, contemporary and state-of-the-art as you approach, with the West stand dominating the skyline and the excitement amongst the fans swarming as one to cheer on their team becomes palpable and infectious.
Walking passed the spacious and welcoming supporters' bar the feeling of community and togetherness grows as you glimpse the large number of home fans enjoying the hospitality on offer and mingling amiably with the hardy band of travelling Leinster fans - who follow their side wherever they go and are, typically, never too far from the nearest party.
Once inside the 'bowl' itself you instantly feel at home and comfortable in this new environment. The West stand provides seating for 5,000 and quick access to all the supporters' consumer and comfort needs, whilst helpful stewards reguarly sweep around offering the free programme to accompany the night's fixture.
The North and South areas of the ground allow for the more die-hard followers who enjoy the more traditional rugby experience as both stands are exactly that - regions for all-standing; and whilst they may not be able to house the same capacity of the West, the occupants certainly make their voices heard with rousing cries of "Sale! Sale!".
It really is the perfect place for sport, with the only things dampening the fans' spirit being the less-than-welcome heavy late-August rain that lashes down mercilessly and threatens the spectacle.
The match itself gets off to a flying start, with the hosts looking lively through powerhouse Andy Powell and new-boy Danny Cipriani.
Big carries from Powell and Richie Gray - already clearly a fan-favourite by the reception the crowd afford him - delight the punters and put Leinster under intense early pressure.
The crowd are excited by the way the Sharks have attacked the European champions from the get-go and dare to dream that the 43-0 hammering Northampton put on the Irish province a week previous could somehow be repeated.
A Cipriani penalty gets a predominantly effeminate cheer from the home stands and it is obvious that the England international will be a big hit with the ladies; but the big hitting is left to Sale defenders for the remainder of the half as Leinster force their way into the game and grind their hosts down - a Noel Reid three-pointer just before half-time levels the scores at the interval.
The heavens literally open out onto the Salford pitch at half-time, but that doesn't deter the brave young souls that scurry out onto the turf for youth tag-rugby to provide some relief for a crowd that enjoyed little entertainment in the second quarter of the half. The kids are clearly revelling in the new environment and some great running, effort and electric tries are greeted with the biggest cheers of the night so far.
To the dismay of the home faithful the second half begins as the first ended, with Leinster's heavies taking control of the game - prop Jamie Hagan and second row Leo Cullen especially impressive with a number of strong carries.
The pressure is relentless and despite a huge hit from Andy Powell ten metres out from the Sale line which brings and encouraging roar from the stands the ball is flung wide with speed by the Leinster backs and wing Andrew Conway dives over in the right-hand corner.
As the conditions deteriorate further so the fans' enthusiasm for the game threatens to ebb away, but a great hit by Johnny Leota get them swiftly back on side and wins the ball back for his team.
From the resulting scrum the ball is fed to the midfield, and replacement and local lad Jordan Davies finds the hole in the visitors' defence to put full-back Rob Miller through the gap to glide over in the wet out wide, to the vocal delight of the majority inside Salford City Stadium.
Nick McLeod adds the extras expertly to once again tie the scores, but isn't so accurate a minute later with a penalty shot to take the lead and after this the match is played out between the two 10-metre lines with little more action of note.
The final whistle is met with contentment from the home support. As the droves file for the exit most are in agreement that a reputable draw with the best team in the Northern Hemisphere in atrocious conditions is a decent result; but all can concur that, in their new stadium in Salford, there really is no place like home.